TURLOCK—Sonora running backs/special teams coach John Canepa was excitedly pacing the sideline on Friday night at Turlock during the Wildcats season opener against the Bulldogs. He was pleasantly surprised with what he was seeing.
Sonora fullback K.C. Brandsted (20) attempts to brush off a tackle from Turlock's DaShawn Holcombe (28) on Friday night. Brandsted rushed for a team-high 103 yards. DANNY O'BRYAN/UNION DEMOCRAT
“I haven’t seen him run the ball like this in practice at all,” said Canepa. “He’s running and hitting the holes so hard — I can’t believe it!”
Canepa was referring to junior K.C. Brandsted. The 5-8, 185-pound fullback, who transferred from Modoc High School, was perhaps the biggest star, of several, in the Wildcats’ prolific rushing attack. Despite a 35-27 loss, the Wildcats gouged the Bulldog defense for 379 yards, including 103 from the hard-charging Brandsted.
“What a surprise, huh?” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “We saw flashes of that in practice and then again in the scrimmage against Hughson, but what he did tonight was just incredible. He hit the holes hard and he runs hard once he gets contact. We definitely found another running back in K.C.”
“Sonora is a very well-coached, tough, tough, tough, physical football team,” said Turlock head coach James Peterson. “I was the whole game commenting to my coaches on how well those backs run hard, like they’re running downhill all the time. They finished forward all the time. I was thinking, ‘Man, I need to have their running backs coach come over here and put on a clinic for us.’ Because I’ll tell you what, our defense was on its heels all night and it’s been a long time since our defense has looked like that. So whatever they did in preparations for our game, they did a very good job. My hats off to them.”
While the Wildcats piled up the yardage, they really wished they could get back their first four possessions, three of which ended with turnovers.
“I wish we hadn’t turned the ball over,” said Craig. “That was the biggest thing, putting the ball on the ground early. Other than that, I thought we played pretty well. We started out kind of slow but our offense was clicking and it seemed like the only thing stopping us was us.”
Turlock capitalized on mistakes and jumped out to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
When the Wildcats finally got on the scoreboard late in the first half, it came from an unexpected source.
With Turlock punting from its own endzone, Wildcat junior Tim Miller came clean from his end position and blocked it.
What ensued next was an all-out scramble for the ball in the endzone.
While it looked like Turlock made the recovery, when the referees dug to the bottom of the pile, Sonora’s Walter Leyva emerged with the pigskin for a touchdown.
“I saw Tim come from the left and block the kick,” said Leyva. “I saw the ball go up in the air and hit the ground in the endzone. I ran for it, dove on it and I didn’t have it at first. Some guy from their team had the ball but I stripped it out of his arms and took it.”
“I was lined up on the end and I squeezed right past that tackle and got in there free,” said Miller. “I jumped up and I got it. I was ecstatic because I’ve never blocked a punt. After I blocked it, I went looking for it. But then I saw my friend Walter go jump on it.”
“The play Tim Miller made tonight with that blocked punt really stands out,” said Craig. “That big play really got our team started tonight.”
Trailing 21-6 to start the third quarter, the Wildcats came out charged up and put the offensive gas pedal to the floor.
Chewing four minutes off the clock, the Wildcats marched 80 yards and scored on a 2-yard run by Ryan Puou. The highlight of the drive was a 20-yard gain from senior fullback Brandon Camara who carried five tacklers the final 15 yards before he was finally brought down on the Turlock 7.
The Bulldogs answered quickly to make the score 28-12 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats took just three plays to cut back into that lead.
Senior Christian LaPertche electrified the visiting crowd and sideline with a 65-yard scamper for a touchdown with 5:06 left in the third. When LaPertche first got the ball, he was headed outside where there were nothing but Turlock defenders.
“I got the ball and everyone was outside left,” said LaPertche. “So I cut it in and I really wasn’t expecting much. But it was wide open and I had a blocker in front of me, I held onto his jersey and I was just gone from there.”
Actually, the determined LaPertche brushed off three tackle attempts before he finally broke free and outraced everybody to the endzone. Brandsted plunged in for the 2-point conversion to make it 28-20.
Turlock again answered with an 11-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that was aided early by a Sonora penalty on third down which kept the drive alive.
The Wildcats’ final score came on an Andrew Nessi pass to Casey Holman from 20 yards away. Nessi hit Holman, who made a strong catch with a defender draped all over his back, on a quick slant. Holman carried the defender the final 10 yards to paydirt.
“Their safety was always creeping up, so I knew I was gonna go right behind him,” said Holman. “I went behind and Andrew put the pass right there. I just kept my feet driving. I didn’t know where I was but I was gonna keep driving until somebody stopped me.”
Aside from Brandsted’s 103 yards, Sonora also got 93 yards on 18 carries from Nessi, 82 yards on four carries by LaPertche, 75 yards on 12 attempts from Camara and 46 yards on six rushes for Puou.
Sonora gained 404 yards to Turlock’s 409.
“We changed our offense a little coming in here so that might have given Sonora some problems,” said Peterson. “We spread the ball out and we threw the ball more than we ever had. And we actually caught the balls. We also hit some bombs and that helped big time. You know it’s a chess game so the guy who has the last piece is gonna win. And we just got lucky tonight. They’re a very good football team and I’m glad we got them on our schedule.”
“It was the first-game jitters tonight,” said Nessi. “Once we got that out of the way, I thought we did really well — it was all business. After the half, we came out hitting, everyone was clicking and if we keep that tempo from the start, we’re gonna win games. This is a D-1 school and I thought we took them on good tonight.”
“I feel like we should have won,” said Holman. “But we put the ball on the ground too many times and got started too late. In the second half we definitely took control and showed them what Wildcat football is all about.”
The Wildcats next will play their home opener on Friday against another Division I opponent Paradise, who won the Northern Section title last year.
“After the first half tonight, I went into the locker room actually wondering if this was gonna be a long season,” said Craig. “But then we came out and battled. That’s the biggest thing I told the kids after the game, was their effort in the second half was terrific. And we didn’t have to coach that effort, it was there. They battled real hard. That makes us feel real good about getting ready for Paradise next week.”