BY JOELLE MILHOLM Special to The Californian
It was close for one half.
Then Garces turned the lights out on Sunnyside.
With a six-point lead at halftime, the Rams came out with fury in the second half, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter on their way to coasting to a 61-33 victory in the CIF Central Section Division II semifinals on Friday night at Garces.
The win, fueled by a five-touchdown, 287-yard passing performance from Ram quarterback Cruise Adams, puts Garces in the Valley Championship for the second straight season. The Rams (11-1) will now take on Sanger, who beat West Friday night 41-7, on Nov. 30 at Garces.
Adams was on the mark all night, zipping short passes and dropping in perfectly-placed bombs to five different receivers in an unstoppable aerial attack that kept the Wildcats on their heels.
"He was really phenomenal tonight with his decision making and accuracy," Garces head coach Jim Maples said of Adams. "He had an incredible night and a night that we really needed him to have. With the defense they ran and how they schemed us, we knew we had to throw the ball and he stepped up and made play after play."
The Southeast Yosemite League champions were also aided by a persistent running game led by Sheldon Croney. With only 27 yards on 10 carries with one minute left in the third quarter, Croney finally wore down the Wildcats (9-4). He rattled off runs TD runs of 48 and 75 yards to finish with 170 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The Garces defense came up with three turnovers, including an interception and fumble recovery both by Mason Marrota. Both led to first-half touchdowns. In the second half, the Rams got stingy. They forced two punts and a turnover on downs, keeping the ball out of Sunnydale's hands and giving Adams and Croney more chances to score.
Maples credits the Rams' improved defensive performance to George Borba, a senior linebacker who was sick all day and wasn't suited up for the game. After seeing the results in the first half, Borba pushed his illness aside, arrived at the stadium, suited up and helped the defense shut down Sunnyside.
"We made some adjustments at half and Borba made a huge difference in the second half," Maples said.
The Wildcats were led by Errian Wingfield, who rushed for three touchdowns and 208 yards, but it wasn't enough to keep up with the high-octane Rams.
Garces will face Sanger. The Rams lost 21-19 to Clovis North in the 2011 finale.
"There is nothing like playing in a Valley Championship game," Maples said. "It is every kid's dream, and every coach's dream when you start the season to be in that position. To be able to play here on our home field in the Valley Championship is a very special thing and I am just really excited for the kids."