Sonora Wildcat junior quarterback Andrew Nessi hadn’t played a single down on defense all season. He hasn’t even practiced on that side of the ball. He’s got his hands full trying to learn and perfect the Cats’ triple option attack.
Calaveras running back Mike Seawell (above, left) is wrapped up by Kade Barajas (middle) and Brandon Camara (top) on Friday during the Wildcats 35-26 victory at Dunlavy Field. AMY ALONZO ROZAK/UNION DEMOCRAT
But when Sonora’s defensive backfield was short-handed with 2:09 left in a tight game against the Calaveras Redskins on Friday, Nessi got the call.
"The coaches told me to stay on the hash mark and ‘Don’t let anybody get behind you,’ ” said Nessi. “So when the ball was snapped, I kept my back pedal and stayed on the hash.”
Nessi positioned himself perfectly and made an interception to seal a hard-fought 35-26 Wildcat victory much to the delight of the Dunlavy Field crowd.
“We had a few injuries towards the end of the game, so we put our quarterback in at safety,” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “He doesn’t practice defense. He doesn’t play defense — he’s our quarterback. We stick him in there and he gets a pick. So I’m gonna give our defensive backs a hard time next week.”
The Wildcats grabbed a quick lead and, throughout the rest of the night, had to hold off the determined Redskins.
Brandon Camara capped the Wildcat’s game-opening, 62-yard drive with a physical 4-yard plunge. The TD was Camara’s first of three and he also finished with a game-high 96 yards on 14 carries.
Just three minutes later, Nessi pitched to slotback Christian LaPertche on an apparent sweep. But LaPertche stopped, cocked his arm and fired a strike down the sideline to a streaking Thomas Erwin who hauled in the pass for a 45-yard score.
“I got the ball and when I looked down the field, I could only see his legs,” said LaPertche. “I threw it up and I was so excited when I saw him catch it.”
Down 14-0 just over five minutes into the game, the Redskins weren’t about to throw in the towel.
“I know this team is a group of fighters and they’re gonna fight to the end,” said Redskins head coach Jason Weatherby. “They did that tonight up until Sonora got that interception at the end. They’re not just gonna lay on the their back after somebody runs over them, they’re gonna come right back and battle.”
And battle the Skins did.
With the Redskins finding it difficult to run, they went to air. Calaveras quarterback Zack Johnson hit Mike Seawell for a 15-yard gain for a first down. Two plays later, the duo teamed for a 26-yard connection.
Redskins running back Kellen Hodgson capped the 80-yard drive with a 17-yard scoring burst through the middle.
Calaveras recovered a Wildcat fumble a few seconds later and took advantage. Hodgson scored on a 1-yard dive on the first play of the second quarter. The 2-point conversion failed and Sonora held a 14-13 lead.
“There were a lot of kids over there that really wanted to win,” said Craig. “You could see that ‘want to’ on their sideline. They weren’t gonna just roll over and let us run over the top of them. So I think it was a combination of us letting up a little bit, with us thinking, ‘Ah, we’re gonna roll through this one.’ And them really saying ‘Lets go out and play some football.’ ”
With 6:42 left in the half, Sonora was pinned deep in its own territory after Johnson booted a perfect punt that rolled out on the 1-yard line.
Five minutes and 11 plays later, Camara rammed his way into the endzone from six yards out to to give the Cats a 21-13 halftime lead.
“I think that was a statement drive,” said Craig. “Both for us as a team saying ‘Yes, we can do this to anybody.’ And I think it was a statement to them saying, ‘We’re gonna run the ball. Here we come, try to stop us.’ ”
The Redskins struck first in the third quarter after recovering a second Sonora fumble.
Johnson found Seawell for a 15-yard curl route which turned into a 46-yard score after the speedy Seawell worked his magic.
“With his speed, he gets people turned the wrong way and then breaks off his pattern really quick,” said Weatherby. “He runs great routes. He gets a cushion and then makes moves after the catch that make people miss. Anytime we need something, he was there. He does a phenomenal job at receiver.”
The 2-point conversion failed and the Cats remained in the lead 21-19.
The Wildcats answered with an 80-yard drive that looked as if the Redskins had them stopped.
On fourth-and-12 from the Redskins 36, Nessi fired his best pass of the season, a 30-yard strike to Erwin. Erwin scampered the final 6 yards for the score. Sean Adams, who went 5 for 5 on extra points, made it 28-19 with 4:58 left in the third.
Again Calaveras rallied.
Johnson went 6 for 9 on an eight-minute, 76-yard, scoring drive. He found Seawell three times for 41 yards. Seawell finished with six catches for 128 yards. He also rushed for 23 yards.
Johnson found senior tight end Brian Golston on a throw back screen for a 34-yard touchdown. Golston’s extra point made it 28-26 with 8:59 left.
“Sonora’s D-line and O-line were a lot better than we expected them to be,” said Weatherby. “They kind of handled us up front. We couldn’t run tackle-to-tackle, so early on we had to change our game plan mid-stride which didn’t work very well. We threw the ball pretty decent but … ”
Sonora answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that took 6:50 off the clock. Camara bulled his way in from the 1 for the final score.
“I think tonight went really well,” said Wildcat center/noseguard Dylan Vogt. “They gave a good effort but they couldn’t stop what we were doing. It feels really good to have a win. Next week, we’re definitely gonna be ready to open league with Weston Ranch.”
For Sonora (1-2), Nessi had 16 carries for 73 yards, K.C. Brandsted gained 41 yards, LaPertche rushed for 36 yards and Ryan Puou gained 29 yards.
Sonora outgained Calaveras 395-246.
For Calaveras, (2-1) Johnson completed 10 of 17 for 188 yards and Hodgson rushed for 29 yards and two TDs.
“It was a big disappointment tonight,” said Redskin senior Joe Elliott. “We definitely made mistakes that we should not have made and this is what happens. They’re a good football team. You make mistakes and this is gonna happen. Defensively, there were simple mistakes, stuff that is our fault. And that’s the good news, it’s all simple stuff we can work on. From here, we definitely need to get a new focus. We let down a little bit tonight and it killed us. So this week, we need to get our focus back to where it needs to be.”
“We had a great game defensively, although their passing kind of killed us,” said Wildcat linebacker Steve Lawrence. “We came out and punched them in the mouth and they kind of stood back and realized, ‘Yeah, these guys are for real, lets come back at them.’ This has always been a big game since I was playing Pop Warner seven years ago. We’ve always had a good rivalry going. It’s the same guys playing us back then as it is now. They always come out and play hard. They gave a good effort and did a good job.”
“They’re tough,” said Nessi. “They came out with intensity and wanted to win bad, but we took it away. It’s good to finally get a win after two tough games. Now that we’ve got that taste in our mouths, we’re gonna go out there and keep winning.”