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Foothill had one thing on its mind: coming back for a league title.
The first time the Falcons faced Livermore, they lost in 14-13 fashion on their home turf. But that was a non-league game, as the two decided to square off twice against each other during this unique 2021 spring season that was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, Foothill made it a mission to avenge that defeat and win out the rest of the way. And it did just that, backed behind a stellar all-around performance.
In the second meeting between the two, Foothill (4-1, 4-0 EBAL) earned a 27-14 victory at the No. 14 Livermore Cowboys (4-1, 3-1 EBAL), snapping the Cowboys’ undefeated season and capturing an East Bay Athletic Valley Division title.
It gave Foothill its first league title since 2015.
“We’ve been grinding for this every day for over a year now I think,” said Foothill senior running back Jayden Payne. “It feels amazing. We lost to these guys already out of league, so to beat them in league means the world to all of us.”
Foothill seized control from the onset of the contest and never looked back, withstanding a late Livermore push to hang a league banner.
One player after a 22-yard pass from junior quarterback Nick Walsh, the Falcons were in business with a 1-yard touchdown run from Walsh on a quarterback sneak, giving them a 6-0 lead on the opening possession (Livermore blocked the extra point).
Their defense then made a stand against Livermore’s offense, which eventually led to another quarterback keeper from Walsh to make it a 13-0 ballgame with 1:14 remaining in the first quarter.
Payne – entering the affair with 401 rushing yards through the first four games – pushed Foothill ahead 20-0 with 55 seconds remaining in the first half, as Payne already had 20 carries for 125 yards at that point.
“I think we were more motivated, especially because we lost by one point,” Payne said. “We missed the extra point early on. Did not want that to happen again by one point. I put it on them. It feels amazing. Keep running it down their throats with the 0-linemen. All of them were pushing hard, and the defense clutched up.”
But Livermore rallied together and made things interesting following halftime.
Its first drive of the second half was capped off with senior quarterback Shaun Smith making a heroic play where he eluded pressure to find senior tight end Matthew Polaski in the right size of the end zone, as Polaski made an incredible one-handed snag to cut the Foothill lead to 20-7.
Smith extended another play on Livermore’s second score, connecting with Dylan Prusso in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score just a few plays after they connected on a 35-yard play to trim Foothill’s lead to 20-14 with 39.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, Foothill never relinquished control after that, with Payne finishing off a long drive with a 5-yard touchdown and then an interception by Dylan Noval in the end zone later effectively putting the capper on the evening.
This was an experience Foothill had endured before multiple times this season, watching opponents claw back before pulling away for close wins – 35-25 against Granada last week and 36-35 versus Dublin two weeks ago.
“This has happened to us so many times during the year where we lose all of the momentum, it gets close,” Payne said. “We’ve had so many close games this year, so we just knew we couldn’t let it go again. Just had to keep pushing it down their throats, and then we scored one time in the second half. The defense clutched up, though. Felt great.”
Payne was a wrecking crew behind a stingy offensive line, rushing for 159 yards and two scores on 31 carries, adding a 17-yard catch.
Payne has run for 100-plus yards in four of Foothill’s five games, putting him at 560 total rushing yards and six touchdowns.
“Jayden has been great,” Walsh said. “He’s been pounding the ball left and right, running all over teams, jst making it great, setting up the pass, play-action, all that.”
Walsh was an efficient 9-of-12 for 120 yards, and he also totaled 16 rushing yards and a pair of scores.
Five Falcons caught a pass, led by junior Noah Lombardi’s 42 yards on three catches and RJ Siebe’s 23 yards on two receptions.
And the Foothill defense determined a large outcome in this game, holding a Livermore offense with multiple college prospects that scored 28 points per game to just 14 and a rushing attack that chunked up 6.2 yards per carry to 4.9 on Saturday, including eight of the 21 carries going for three yards or fewer.
“Our defense has just made great stops all year, especially tonight,” Walsh said. “Dylan’s pick in the end zone at the end of the game – that was great. That set us up to basically win the game.”
Smith was a gamer, though, in the second half and helped will Livermore back into the contest behind his 186 passing yards and 66 rushing yards on 12 carries. He now has 556 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception, along with 66 rushing yards and four scores in that regard.
Prusso was Smith’s top target, catching seven of his passes for 87 yards. Senior Brandon York also tallied seven catches for 44 yards. Fellow senior Tyler Martin notched 41 yards on five grabs.
Livermore’s season concludes at 7 p.m. April 17 in its rivalry game at Granada. Foothill goes for its fifth straight victory when it travels to Amador Valley at 7 p.m. April 17.
Link to Photo Gallery
Passing: Nick Walsh: 9-12, 120 yards.
Rushing: Jayden Payne: 31 carries, 159 yards, 2 TD. Nick Walsh: 6 carries, 16 yards, 2 TD. Trevor Barros: 5 carries, 12 yards. Kenny Olson: 3 carries, 6 yards.
Receiving: Noah Lombardi: 3 catches, 42 yards. RJ Siebe: 3 catches, 23 yards. Jayden Payne: 1 catch, 17 yards. Keijon Simpkins: 1 catch, 16 yards. Kenny Olson: 2 catches, 12 yards.
Passing: Shaun Smith: 21-33, 186 yards, 2 TD.
Rushing: Shaun Smith: 12 carries, 66 yards. Dominic Belluomini: 8 carries, 37 yards. Tanner Lewis: 1 carry, 0 yards. Dylan Prusso: 7 catches, 87 yards, TD. Brandon York: 7 catches, 44 yards. Tyler Martin: 5 catches, 41 yards. Matthew Polaski: 2 catches, 14 yards.
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