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Bringing the Branding Iron home

They danced. They shouted at the top of their lungs. But mostly, the fans chanted long, loud and proud. Echoes of the Mustang Spell-out rang throughout the stadium. The single word “Defense” resonated during the dying minutes of the game.

On that night, nothing else mattered. They just wanted to join in. To be a part of a historical moment: when varsity football brought home the Branding Iron for the first time in six years.

In 90 degree weather, Walnut held back Diamond Bar in the annual Branding Iron game to win 21-15 on Friday, Sept. 1 at home.

Hundreds of Mustangs and Brahmas piled into the stadium, half wearing white, half wearing purple. Despite the divide, everyone cheered as the first kick of the game soared through the air.

In the first quarter, a fumble resulted in Diamond Bar gaining possession and pushing to the 40-yard line. Two minutes in, they received the ball in the endzone, but the catch was ruled incomplete. After nine minutes, the Brahmas broke through, scoring a 1-yard rushing touchdown along with a two-point conversion. With the score 0-8, the cheers from Walnut died down and the outcome of the game started to look bleak.

However, Walnut bounced back with two touchdowns before the end of the first half. A fumble by Diamond Bar allowed Walnut to score its first touchdown with a 14-yard pass from quarterback senior Enzo Angeles to tight end junior Tristan Gatten. After Diamond Bar converted another touchdown, this time an 85-yard kick return, Angeles faked a handoff and rushed 15 yards to score another six points. By halftime, the score was 14-15.

Coming out of the locker room after halftime, the Mustangs jogged onto the field, determined to take the Branding Iron.

“A lot of things were going through my head. Like, everything you could imagine. I just wanted the time to run,” wide receiver junior Jared Arellano said. “I’m thinking about winning, I’m thinking about my job on the field. Just a lot was going on.”

Diamond Bar’s quarterback, who had a total of 219 passing yards, was limited to 31 passing yards in the third quarter. Walnut completed several tackles, which gave way to an interception from running back senior Gerald Brown at the 7:16 mark, the turning point of the rivalry game.  

With the possession of the ball, Walnut pushed toward the 20-yard line. Despite the cacophony of cheers and boos coming from both sides, they were focused.

“As a coach, you can always talk about [facts and statistics], but what it boils down to is how much you can get the kids to believe. And the kids believed,” varsity football coach Eric Peralta said.

At the top of the fourth quarter, the unthinkable happened. Angeles, having to carry the ball after almost being sacked by an oncoming defender, sustained an injury. Losing the main quarterback is detrimental for most teams; but not for the Mustangs. Arellano, who started as wide receiver, stepped in and took over the main quarterback position.

Two minutes later, joy pulsed through the Walnut stands. Arellano had just carried the ball for 13 yards, dancing through the countless swarm of defenders, and scored the final touchdown of the game. The Mustangs’ lead increased as the football sailed through the field goal from kicker junior Evan Huang completing, the one-point conversion.

“It’s not like this was given to us. We pushed ourselves and we pushed each other. That’s all we could do and it paid off. We have heart and we don’t stop,” linebacker senior Christian Elias said.

At the 2:20 mark, Diamond Bar regained possession. Suddenly, the Brahmas quarterback went down and the Mustangs on the field surrounded number 52, jumping and screaming. Defensive tackle senior Noel Sena had just sacked the Diamond Bar quarterback with 1:40 left.

Nevertheless, the Brahmas rallied and were at the 20-yd line within 50 seconds. Push after push, rush after rush, they pressured the Walnut defensive line from all angles. At the 23-second mark, Diamond Bar released the ball; sailing through the air, the touchdown was inches away from their receiver’s fingertips before being tipped away by Arellano.

“[In the last minutes of the game], my heart was about to come out of my chest,” Principal Brandon Dade said.

With 23 seconds left on second down, the Brahmas caught a 20-yard pass in the endzone. The fans in purple erupted in cheers. However, the referee waved his hands, signaling the catch as out of bounds. A remaining 15.9 seconds on the clock and Diamond Bar once again caught a hail mary, but landed just out of bounds. Fourth down and 3.9 seconds left, the Brahmas received the ball and landed in the endzone. Half the fans cheered and half the fans looked toward the man in black and white; he conferred with the other referees, and simply waved his hands.

“I had some doubt in my mind. I did and I admit it, but when it hit that fourth quarter and we were up, nothing else mattered. The fans didn’t matter, nothing mattered except for that [win],” defensive tackle junior William von Goeben said.

All of a sudden, the final whistle blew. Hysteria broke throughout the entire stadium. The fans screamed, shouted, sang and danced. Dozens of people sprinted onto the field, barely believing what they had just witnessed.

“Winning this, it means the world to me. I was bursting down in tears in the locker room for a full 20 minutes,” von Goeben said.

Despite the pandemonium, the Mustangs huddled up in a circle as one team, embracing one another. Peralta gave a speech, and the Branding Iron was presented to the team. The six year defending champions had been dethroned. The dream had finally been achieved.

“We’re going to celebrate tonight, but we’re going to come together tomorrow and watch film to learn about the things we did great and try to fix the things that we didn’t do so great. And then we’re going to fold that up, we’re going to appreciate it, we’re going to put it in our back pocket and then we’re going to move on. That’s what it’s about. This is a game in our season, it’s not our season. We have bigger and better things ahead,” Peralta said.

On this night, the combination had been unbeatable: the fans gave their support, and the players, their hearts.

“We all had that attitude and we all worked hard for it, and in the end, we deserved it. We really deserved it,” von Goeben said. “It’s been six years of all the haters [and] all the stuff that we have to put up with. After six years, we got it. We got it.”

By Sarah Aie and Tristan Gonzalez, Sports editors
Photo by Justin Jiang