With a potential MLL title on the line, the Skins came out and showed the Mustangs that they were not the Redskins of old.
Less than 2 minutes into the game, Argonaut had the ball on their own 40 when senior Blake Ehlers disrupted a handoff in the backfield, causing a fumble, and picked up the loose ball and returned it to the Mustangs 30-yard line.
Calaveras converted when Danny Gilmore scored on a tough 10-yard run, breaking two tackles on his way to giving the Redskins an early 6-0 lead.
“Danny runs like a beast every time he touches the ball,” Barrett said. “Tonight he really turned it on, was focused, and nothing was going to stop him.”
Following the score, the Redskins defense shut down Argonaut and forced a punt.
The Mustangs pinned the Skins on their own 15, but no worries, Calaveras got 80 yards real quick.
Mike Seawell took a handoff from quarterback Justyn Thornburg, turned the corner and scampered 80 yards before being taken down at the Argonaut 5-yard line.
After a 10-yard penalty set up a 3rd-and-goal from the Argonaut 13 with 4:10 remaining in the first quarter, Thornburg went to the air, and for the third time in three games, found Seawell in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard score and a 12-0 lead.
“On third down, it’s a good chance to try a pass into the end zone because if it doesn’t work, we still have fourth down to try something that can also work as a scoring play,” Weatherby said.
The Redskins defense kept swarming. T.J. Crenshaw stripped Argo ball carrier Caleb Patrick on the Mustangs next play and Calaveras was set up deep in Mustang territory.
“Our defense was swarming all night, not allowing any big runs,” Barrett said. “Everybody out there wanted a piece of the ballcarrier, so you saw 11 guys in pursuit to make the tackle every play.”
Connor Hamilton ran for 30 yards to the 4-yard line and Seawell finished the two-play drive with a 4-yard run. Thornburg then hit Ehlers in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion extending the Redskins lead to 20-0 with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
“We left the locker room tonight knowing that we don’t lose at home,” said lineman Logan Sullivan. “Every time we are in front of this great home crowd, we want to perform well for them. Everything was clicking tonight from the moment we stepped on the field, and we put on one heck of a show.”
Early in the second quarter, Argonaut turned the ball over on downs at the Calaveras 29.
Calaveras then moved to the Argonaut 37, but penalties forced the Skins into a 1st-and-25 on their own 45.
With a quarter of the field to go for a first down, Thornburg went to the air looking for his star wide out. Seawell made a circus catch over two defenders and stayed in bounds before being taken down at the Argonaut 11 after a 41-yard gain.
Gilmore, who finished with 63 yards on 13 carries and two scores, capped the drive with a 3-yard score. Brian Cox added the PAT, giving the Skins a 27-0 lead with 6:38 left in the first half.
“The key for tonight’s game was to come out and play with nothing but heart,” Barrett said. “We knew that they are bigger and very physical, but it’s all about heart. We put together a good game plan that we were able to execute exactly how we needed to in order to win.”
Facing a huge deficit, the Mustangs went outside their comfort zone and went to the air.
But instead of finding his receivers, Argonaut QB Tylor Byrd found Calaveras safety Malachi Stockdale, who picked off the pass and returned it 73 yards to the Argonaut 4.
“When I caught the ball, I followed my blockers and did my best to get down the field, and hopefully, increase the lead,” Stockdale said.
Hamilton scored right after to extend the Skins lead to 34-0.
Calaveras took the second-half kickoff and was able to eat away nearly half the quarter with a solid drive. On the drive, Thornburg, who threw for 67 yards and a score on 4 of 4 passing. He twice connected with Ehlers on pass plays of 4 and 9 yards. Seawell capped off the 50-yard drive with a 3-yard run, his second rushing score of the night and third overall.
Seawell led the Skins with 54 receiving yards and 118 rushing yards on only eight carries.
Even though the Calaveras offense scored the first six times they touched the ball, the Skins defense matched that effort.
“We knew that in order for us to be successful tonight, the defensive line needed to come out and be the heart and soul of the defense,” Sullivan said. “We needed to do our job in order for the rest of the defense to do their job. We were able to get some penetration by staying low and that ended up making piles for the linebackers to come up and make plays. It was a total team effort.”
The Skins defense has been outstanding in league play, allowing only 13 points per game and only 12 points in the first three quarters of those games.
If defense wins championships, the Redskins may be well on their way to an MLL title.
“The defensive effort was amazing tonight,” Weatherby said. “Just being able to stop their offense with how well they run it was a great feat, and to get turnovers the way we did just added to how impressive it was.”
“Everyone on the defensive line was doing their job tonight,” said junior defensive lineman Mason Parham. “The Argonaut offensive line was really big and physical, so we had to dig deep and not allow them to push us around.”
Argonaut was able to put 14 points on the board in the fourth quarter, but by that time, the game was well out of hand. As the teams shook hands and walked off the field, the Redskins not only celebrated the 41-14 win, but enjoyed being in sole possession of first place in the MLL.
“We are not champions yet,” Parham said. “We are on our way, but we still have Summerville and Bret Harte coming up, so we need to stay focused.”
“This team had been hungry for this game for quite a while,” Weatherby said. “We were able to get the momentum on our side pretty early and never gave it up. This win means a little more to me than others, it honestly does. We were able to get a little bit of payback for the last couple of years, and that feels really good.”