ORANGE – Last November, Orange football coach Robert Pedroza had to deliver the bad news. Despite an eight-win season on the field – seven wins on the books after a forfeit – the Panthers did not qualify for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Pedroza said, “trying to tell a group of young men who fought so hard throughout the season. It just crushed them.”
For a team that went winless in 2014 and 4-6 in Pedroza’s first year at the helm in 2015, a playoff berth and what the team thought could’ve been a deep run was delayed.
Orange took that result and made it a motivation for their 2017 season that now has them in the Division 13 championship game, their first title game since 2005. On Saturday night, the Panthers (11-2) will play Silver Valley (9-3) of Yermo in the final at El Modena High.
“We gave them the message that no one is going to dictate your season except you,” Pedroza said. “Do not leave any doubt, do not give anybody a chance to leave you out of the playoffs.”
The Panthers went to work over the offseason and took out their frustration in a constructive manner for a growing football team.
“Weight room,” quarterback Jason Wilkinson said. “Just the work we’ve been doing. Everybody in the weight room, their maxes went up at least 60 to 100 pounds. Everybody was just mad that they didn’t make it, so we were just banging out on the weights.”
The work paid off and Orange rolled to a 6-0 start. But after a close league loss to Westminster and another against Santa Ana two weeks later, the lingering doubts…