By SIM RISSO
For The Union Democrat
STOCKTON—The Calaveras Redskins traveled to Stockton to take on the Weston Ranch Cougars, who they’ve played in the previous five seasons. Entering the game, Calaveras had beaten the Cougars in four-of -five contests. Well, now it’s five-of-six, as the Redskins prevailed, 27-15.
With the new season came a lot of new faces for Calaveras. One in particular was junior Zach Johnson, the team’s new starting quarterback. While Johnson had previously played in two scrimmages, this was his first action in a live game.
“The jitters were unbelievable before the game,” said Johnson. “But my coaches, they prepared me for what I needed to do. My team, they gave me the support I needed. And it turned out a lot easier than I thought it would be. With my team’s support, we did it. We made it through.”
Despite what Johnson may have been feeling prior to the game, he certainly didn’t look nervous once the game started. In fact, Johnson confirmed as much.
“I threw that first pass and it was complete,” said Johnson. “I was like, ‘Okay, all the jitters are gone. Now I’m just playing football. And this is what I’m here to do.’ ”
Johnson certainly looked like he belonged on the field, completing 10-of-13 passes for three touchdowns and 134 yards passing.
Johnson’s first touchdown pass — and the Redskins’ first touchdown of the season — came in the first quarter with Johnson connecting with Donovan Vassey on a post route for a 46-yard touchdown.
“That was a great feeling,” said Vassey of his touchdown catch. “First touchdown of the season, it’s always a good one, no matter who scores it. But to be the one who scores it, that’s just incredible.”
Johnson would connect on two more touchdowns, one was a 21-yard pass in the second quarter in which Mike Seawell made an incredible catch, giving Calaveras a 13-0 lead. His third touchdown pass came in the fourth quarter — an 11-yard connection with Thomas Douglas that virtually iced the game for Calaveras.
Redskin head coach Jason Weatherby was pleased with the play of his new starting quarterback.
“I was very proud with the way we could throw the ball down the field, just in the five-step drop, three-step drop, whenever we needed to,” said Weatherby. “I think Zach had a good opening night. He made some reads that weren’t quite right, but we had Mikey Seawell make that great catch down in the end zone. That was huge, but that was actually the wrong read.”
Seawell, a sophomore, had an excellent game, scoring two touchdowns and actually scoring a third on a 75-yard kickoff return that was ultimately negated by a penalty.
All in all, Seawell gained 109 yards receiving and on the ground, and definitely proved that he belongs on the varsity squad, despite only being a sophomore.
Calaveras also showed off its vaunted ground game, racking up 244 yards and dominating the time of possession over Weston Ranch holding the ball for 31:05, compared to the Cougars paltry 16:55.
A big part of that success was due to the Redskins’ ability to push Weston Ranch off of the line of scrimmage, creating holes for the Calaveras backs. It was a well-rounded effort all across the offensive line.
“I thought Noah Shuler played well,” said Weatherby. “Troy McCann played his heart out and Jason Leatherman, too. Our front five was tough. Kyle Nichols started out a little slow, but by the end he was getting coached and doing the right thing, blocking the right people.”
Defensively, Calaveras put forth a solid effort only allowing 213 yards and eight first downs. But, as defensive coordinator Doug Clark would go on to say, there are some areas for the defense to improve upon, which is to be expected in the first game of the season.
“We got a win, so that’s nice,” said Clark. “We gave up 15, so that’s not nice. But for the most part, the guys lined up in the right spots and got to the right spots most of the time. But a few times, we needed to use just a little bit of common sense. On third-and-13, we should be expecting pass and we bite on the run and they go 80 yards. That’s a killer. But we’ll get there. There’s a lot of positives out there that I saw.”
A surprising defensive standout for Calaveras was noseguard Jarrod Kennedy — surprising in the sense that Kennedy is just now getting his feet wet on the defensive line.
“Kennedy has never played line,” said Clark. “We moved him there this week. We put him on the line for a couple of plays at the scrimmage, last week. And it was like the light went on. We found his spot finally after two years.
“I think — I’ll call it right now — I think he can be an All-League defensive lineman. He was very impressive. We just need to get him to be a little bit smarter and watch the ball. I don’t know how many times he was offside.”
As the season goes forward, there are definitely some areas for Calaveras to improve upon. As Clark mentioned, defensively, they need to get better at things like paying attention to down-and-distance. Offensively, they turned the ball over three times (two interceptions, one fumble), so that’s an area to improve on as the season goes forward. Then, as a team, they had six penalties.
But, overall, it was a solid way for Calaveras to start the season. They got the win, dominated the time of possession and gained almost twice as many yards as Weston Ranch. There’s definitely a lot there for the Redskins to build upon.
“We played better than we have in the past two weeks,” said senior fullback/linebacker Austin Weatherby. “But I also think that because it was an actual game and the refs were there, that we had a lot of mistakes show up. Because of that, that’s like our starting point from now on. That’s how we can get better. And I think this is extremely important, very monumental, for the rest of the season.”