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Dawgs lose 37-15 to Bears in D-III playoffs
• CHS football team compiles 8-3 overall record, ends second in WAC
Tarrell Lee-Gill ran
Tarrell Lee-Gill ran for 70 yards and one touchdown during his final game with Ceres High’s football team.

The Ceres High School football team’s success-filled 2022 season came to a close this past week.

The 12th-seeded Bulldogs fell 37-15 to fifth-seeded Merced in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs on Friday at Cathie Hostetler Stadium.

“The kids were fired up for the game,” Ceres High head coach Brett Johnson said. “They weren’t worried about anything except winning. We had every opportunity to do that. Give Merced credit. But I truly believe we were the better team. We were prepared. We just made too mistakes and they capitalized. That was the difference. We weren’t trying to make mistakes. A couple of them happened because we were trying to do something more.”

The Bulldogs lost despite limiting the Bears to just 159 yards of total offense, including 41 on the ground. Ceres High also recovered three fumbles.

Kahmi Smith led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles and one pass deflection.

Faiva Taukalau collected 10 tackles. 

Josh Prestridge and Nikahli Garcia both had six tackles.

Izaiah Rodriguez and Reis Smith and four and three tackles, respectively.

Daniel Baker had two tackles and two fumble recoveries.

Donovan Osuna had two tackles and one forced fumble.

Jeremiah Diaz and Lebron Stallworth each made two tackles.

Thomas Lopez chipped in with one tackle and one fumble recovery.

“Merced has always had a solid program,” Johnson said. “They got quality players. It’s hard to shut down a team like that. The kids were prepared. They watched film. They executed the game plan.”

“It was a fun defense to coach,” he added. “It was a fun defense to watch. They kept us in every single game.”

Ceres High totaled 254 yards and three turnovers on offense.

Landyn Hudson completed 16 of 26 passes for 185 yards with one touchdown, one interception and one fumble.

Tarrell Lee-Gill carried the ball 20 times for 70 yards and one touchdown.

He caught two passes for 10 yards.

Ricky Stanley totaled 53 yards and one touchdown on three receptions.

Nicholas Vieyra made one of his two field-goal attempts. He missed a pair of point-after kicks.

Merced pulled away following a competitive opening half.

Upset-minded Ceres High trailed 21-9 at intermission.

The Bulldogs led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter. Lee-Gill scored on a 3-yard run. Baker set up the score with a 37-yard fumble return.

Down 14-6, Vieyra booted a 30-yard field goal to cut the deficit to five points in the second quarter.

Merced returned a fumble for a touchdown just before halftime.

Stanley hauled in a 10-yard TD pass from Hudson during the second half.

“I can’t say anything bad about my team,” Kahmi Smith stated. “We went out there and fought. We were prepared. We knew what our assignments were. But mistakes happened. They capitalized. Unfortunately, that’s what cost us the game. We’re happy we made it this far. We’re upset that’s the way our season ended.”

The Bulldogs welcomed the challenge of facing the tradition-rich Bears in the opening round of the playoffs.

“You’re in the playoffs,” Johnson said. “Seeding doesn’t matter. I thought we matched up really well. It was a good measuring stick for the talent of our team. We had every opportunity to advance to the second round of the playoffs.”

Brett Johnson hug
Head coach Brett Johnson shares a hug with senior tight end/defensive end Lebron Stallworth following Ceres High’s season-ending 37-15 loss at Merced on Friday.

Ceres High amassed an 8-3 overall record and tied for second place in the Western Athletic Conference standings (5-2) this fall.

The Bears improved to 7-4 and earned the right to play the fourth-seeded Christian Brothers Falcons (8-2, 6-0 Capital Athletic League) in the quarterfinals this Friday. Merced finished second in the CCC with a 5-1 mark.

The Bulldogs made program history in 2022.

Just three teams from Ceres High have won eight or more games in the past 37 years.

The Bulldogs went 9-4 and 8-4 in 1985 and 1988, respectively.

Ceres High annexed its first winning season since 2003.

The Bulldogs secured their second consecutive playoff berth. Ceres High ended 16 years of postseason futility in 2021.

The Bulldogs snapped a seven-year losing streak versus the crosstown-rival Hawks. Ceres High claimed the Ceres Classic perpetual trophy with a thrilling 21-20 win over Central Valley.

The Bulldogs lost to WAC-champion Los Banos and runner-up Lathrop by a combined four points.

“I’m really proud of the kids. It’s been a joy coaching them and watching them grow throughout the years. It’s a special group."
Ceres High Coach Brett Johnson

“I’m really proud of the kids,” Johnson said. “It’s been a joy coaching them and watching them grow throughout the years. It’s a special group. These kids went from being good players to being really good players because they worked hard in the weight room. It translated right to the field. The memories that were created are going to last forever.”

“How can we not be happy with what we did?” Kahmi Smith posed while talking about Ceres High’s success. “We did a lot of great things. I never doubted my team and coaches. I knew we’d get the job done.  Everybody played a big role on this team. We fought hard for what we earned. Nobody can take that away from us.”

Ceres High will lose 28 players to graduation, including Hudson, Lee-Gill, Stanley and Kahmi Smith.

“The legacy they created won’t go away,” Johnson said. “It will keep getting built upon by the kids that we have coming back. It (playoffs) should be an expectation.”

“I think the young guys have a bright future ahead of them,” Kahmi Smith said. “Ceres High is headed in the right direction. I’m pretty sure they’ll be successful.”

Ricky Stanley
Bulldog receiver Ricky Stanley caught three passes for 53 yards and one touchdown versus the Bears.