The annual Amador County Big Game has featured some tense battles through the years, but the 2019 edition of the rivalry game between the Amador and Argonaut high school football teams was an exception to the rule.
On Friday, November 1 in Jackson, Amador dominated from start to finish on the way to a 48-3 victory over Argonaut that reclaimed the coveted Rotary Bell Trophy for the Buffaloes and clinched a part of their first Mother Lode League championship since 2001.
“To get a chance to have a piece of the championship is great for the kids and to beat your rival is awesome,” Amador coach Bill Baker said.
Amador finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first place with Calaveras and Sonora. The Buffaloes lost to Calaveras 17-10 on October 11, but bounced back in resounding fashion by thrashing Sonora 49-14 on October 25, one week after Sonora defeated Calaveras 35-7. Amador’s victory over Sonora was the first by any MLL team since the Wildcats joined the league in 2014, snapping a 32-game MLL win streak.
Despite coming off such a big win the week before, the Buffaloes showed they were not taking the rival Mustangs lightly in this year’s Big Game. Argonaut had won the past two Big Games, including an overtime victory in 2018, and needed a win over the Buffaloes to qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Dan Barnett Field was packed with supporters decked out in either blue or green on a cold, clear night. Amador came out strong, forcing an Argonaut punt on the first possession. Then,on Amador’s first offensive play of the game, junior quarterback Gunner Drake connected with classmate Lance Der Manuelian for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
The two teams then traded punts for the next few series before Amador junior Zachary Simpson slipped through the line to block an Argonaut punt. Amador junior William McCarty caught the blocked punt at a full run and took it all the way down to the Argonaut 2-yard line before being tackled, setting up a short touchdown run by senior Wes Villarreal.
Amador (9-1, 4-1 MLL) kept up the pressure with a 48-yard run from junior Kole Alleyn that set up senior Blake Stock’s touchdown run. Stock would score again on Amador’s next possession, this time on a 30-yard run.
Argonaut senior Joe Woodruff would block the Amador extra point attempt, giving the Mustangs (3-7, 2-3) a much-needed boost late in the second quarter. Argonaut would drive deep into Amador territory, faking a punt to convert on fourth and long, but the drive would stall out when the Mustangs came up a yard short on another fourth down attempt, this one from the Amador 7-yard line.
Argonaut junior defensive end Garrett Elmore would intercept a Drake pass on the next drive. Elmore on defense was a bright spot for Argonaut, making a number of great tackles in addition to the interception. The Mustangs finally got on the scoreboard with a field goal with time running out in the first half and Amador led 27-3 at halftime.
Amador switched up its offense to open the second half, with senior Gus Gedney, a standout receiver all season for the Buffaloes, playing quarterback in a Wildcat formation. Gedney marched Amador down the field with a mix of passes and runs before Alleyn finished the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. Rotating Drake back into the game, Amador would tack on two more touchdowns to close out the game, the first a 20-yard touchdown pass to Alleyn and the last a 24-yard run by senior fullback Clint Lyman.
The loss ended Argonaut’s hopes of making the playoffs. The Mustangs finished fourth in the MLL.
Amador, meanwhile, moves on to the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the Division V playoffs. The Buffaloes earned a first-round bye in the 12-team bracket and will face the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 6 Rosemont and No. 11 Livingston in the quarterfinals on November 15 in Sutter Creek.