Coach Jeff Johnson and his staff set some goals for the Woodlake Tigers varsity football team in 2018. At the top of their agenda was to get used to beating Exeter.
On August 24, they checked that goal off the list with a win against their arch rivals 28-15. This was the first win for Tiger varsity football against Exeter in 15 years.
The next week, Woodlake came out flat and suffered a disappointing loss at Caruthers 21-6. But something clicked that next week in practice. The upstart Tigers, then reeled off 10 straight wins.
Along the way, the team went 6-0 in East Sequoia League (ESL) play and won their first conference title since 1985. They weren’t even tested in a game until last week versus Lindsay in the quarterfinals of the CIF Division 5 playoffs that, thanks to their higher seed (No. 5), was played at Woodlake.
After jumping out to a comfortable 22-7 lead following a long touchdown run by WHS senior running back Victor Rojas and a two-point conversion, the Lindsay Cardinals came roaring back to tie the game at 22-22 in the fourth quarter. It was gut-check time for the Tigers, and they reached down deep and scored on a game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining.
When the gun sounded, Woodlake had held on for 30-22 win. Damian Hernandez, junior quarterback, finished with 13 completions out of 24 passes for 158 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
In the post-game huddle, Coach Johnson praised his team’s toughness, saying, “Now you have been tested, and you all passed.”
But there was little time to relish the victory as the Tigers immediately turned their focus to tonight's (Friday, Nov. 16) semifinal game. It's a road game against the always tough and, this season, undefeated (11-0) number-one seed, the Shafter Generals.