While most students returned home during Thanksgiving break, the Thacher Football team stayed at school preparing for their CIF Finals game versus Mojave. In their most successful season since bringing football to the school, the Toads saw themselves become the number two team in the state and the number one seed in the CIF Division 1 playoffs.
To get to the finals game, which was played on November 29th at Thacher, the Toads, lead by senior captains Lukas Cesena and Emmanuel Aruho defeated Amino Leadership 62-18, Laguna Blanca 60-20, and Chadwick 48-26. Thacher had one last goal ahead of them to finish out the season: the CIF Division 1 Championship.
Luckily, the Toads earned home field advantage by winning the coin toss. People from Ojai, families of players and Thacher students past and present flooded the field to watch the game.
Coach Jeff Hooper commented that playing in front of a large crowd was enjoyable.
“It was great, we love when we have a lot of people down there. It’s a lot of excitement and I thought it was a really great atmosphere, so it was a lot of fun.”
Going into the season the team knew they lost many key parts of their offense and defense from the previous year, but the seniors were able to lead the team into the playoffs.
Marshall Fisher ‘15 spoke about the ups and the downs of the team’s season.
“We pulled together even following tough injuries and had a historic season thanks to great coaching and a great sense of brotherhood.”
“I don’t know that there is anything different this year,” stated Coach Hooper, “but our best teams in history have had large numbers of really great leaders in the senior class. I feel like we had that for sure this year, but I thought last year we had a really enjoyable year, too – we just did not win as many games.”
The coaching staff also had extra help from ex-quarterback, Zane Schryver CdeP 2013. Coaches mentioned that Schryver assisted them in getting specific points across to the team, an ability that he had mastered in his time at Thacher.
Thacher started the game strong, scoring the first two touchdowns. However, Mojave was able to create a pair of turnovers at pivotal moments and was able to score the next 21 points.
The next play became the pivotal moment of the game. Trailing by one, the team attempted a two point conversion. The ball once again was handed to Cesena. He fought through tacklers and appeared to cross the goal line, with fans erupting into cheers. The referee, however, ruled that his knee had hit the ground before the ball crossed the goal line.
Mojave’s defense was able to withhold the Toads next offensive possession and prevented Thacher from scoring when they blocked a last-second field goal attempt by Chase Van Kalsbeek ’16.
Coach Cash Achziger of Mojave was complimentary on the Thacher football team and the game in general.
“It was a hard fought game and both teams played hard and physical. I was proud to be part of such a great game and good sportsmanship. Thacher Football is one of the best programs that I have ever coached against and I come from a background of 20 years of 11 man football. This game could have went either way and one point only means that Thacher and Mojave most certainly deserved to be in the big game. Both teams are winners and over 23 years of coaching I know how hard it is to get to this game. We all should be very proud of our accomplishments this year. Jeff Hooper and his program are a class act and we would like to say thanks for having us.”
This was the second time Thacher had faced Mojave. When asked if this affected the team’s chances Coach Hooper said, “No, they are good people that we enjoy competing with and it is hard to beat a team twice, but that’s mostly because they are good and you expect to play someone good in a championship game and mostly the ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
The Senior leadership on the team was as strong as ever and the end of the game was emotional for all, especially for all the senior leaders.
Quarterback John Carey ’15 spoke passionately about his experience in his final game and final season at Thacher.
“Despite the loss in the end, it wasn’t about the one game, but about the season we had and coming together as a family. The game marked one disappointing day in what was otherwise an unbelievable 14 weeks as a team.”
With an emotional end of the season Coach Hooper looked fondly on his team’s success.
“It’s really hard in that moment, but I wanted to get to all our seniors and tell them they should be extremely proud of where they brought the team this year and that I am proud of them.”
Individual Team Awards
Most Valuable Player: Lukas Cesena ’15
Most inspirational Player: Emmanuel Aruho ’15
Most improved Player: John Carey ’15 and Marshall Fisher ’15
Honorable Mention All-CIF: Emmanuel Aruho ’15
First Team All-CIF: John Carey ’15, Mitch Weil ’15, Nate Currie ’15, Jacques Robles ’17
Offensive Player of the Year for CIF-SS 8 man Div. 1: Lukas Cesena ’15