With the season-opening kickoff hurdling through the air on Friday night at Dunlavy Field, Sonora Wildcat returner Karson Canaday was thinking about his plan of attack.
SONORA WILDCAT RUNNING BACK Austin Davis gains positive yardage in Sonora's opening-night 26-0 pasting of Johansen on Friday night at Dunlavy Field.
“I just wanted to hit that wedge and get like 35-40 yards and put the offense in good shape,” said Canaday.
Once Canaday hit that wedge, his plan changed.
“I hit that wedge and the next thing I know, a U-Haul truck could’ve fit through that hole, so I hit it,” said Canaday. “As soon as I hit that hole, there was no way anybody was gonna catch me.”
The speedy Canaday made a cut through the gaping hole and raced down the sidelines 86 yards to score Sonora’s first touchdown just 12 seconds into the 2011 football season.
“We always want to score first and go up early, but we usually like to start the game on defense,” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “Johansen won the toss and chose to be on defense first and I thought, ‘Oh no.’ But to run it back like that — maybe we should do that more often.”
Canaday’s touchdown turned out to be the game-winner as the Wildcat defense suffocated the Johansen Vikings’ offense en route to a 26-0 victory.
“We played real good and came out hard which was our focus,” said Wildcat co-captain Shawn Madruga, who recovered a fumble in the first half, one of Johansen’s four turnovers in the game. “That was our intent, to play hard, crush them and give them nothing on defense.”
And aside from a few yards, the Wildcats gave the Vikings nothing.
Wildcat co-captain Austin Davis set the tone on defense late in the first quarter.
Davis, at free safety, emphatically put a halt to a promising Viking drive.
Trailing 7-0 and facing third down at the Cats’ 34, Johansen handed the ball to one of their fleet-footed running backs.
“They kept doing the fly sweep to the right side and we saw them come out in that formation again, so I cheated over a little bit,” said Davis. “I saw the back get the ball. I ran up the field and saw his hole open so I went through and met him.”
And whack! Davis flattened the runner for no gain. Drive over. Fourth down.
“The hit he made out there was like a gun went off — everybody heard it, everybody saw it and that’s what we wanted,” said Craig. “That was physical football. At halftime we talked about the fact we wanted to stay physical and we used Austin as our example.”
Sonora scored a more traditional touchdown in the second quarter.
Fullback Brandon Camara exploded through a gaping hole on the right side and plowed the final few yards into the endzone for a 12-yard score with 8:05 left in the first half.
The Wildcats led 13-0 at the intermission but it could have been more had they not committed three turnovers.
“I thought we played really hard and really well,” said Wildcat right guard Joey Schultz. “We need to eliminate the penalties and turnovers definitely, but we played hard and physical which I like.”
“We came out and played 100 percent,” said co-captain Nolan Dambacher, who led all rushers with 100 yards on 13 carries. “Our offensive line had a real good push on the ball and they played really hard. When your line gets that big a push and does that well and you don’t get touched for the first five yards, you get really big gains.”
The Wildcats turned up the heat on both sides of the ball in the second half.
Johansen gained just 61 yards to the Wildcats’ 194.
Overall, Sonora held the Johansen ground attack, which piled up 341 yards last week against the Sac-Joaquin Section’s largest school McNair, to just 160 yards on 38 carries, including just 31 yards in the second half.
“I still thought we gave up too many yards early,” said Craig. “We were kind of out of position a couple of times in that first half. We made some adjustments at halftime and I think we got it all corrected in the second half.”
Johansen had a chance to cut into the lead with 4:37 left in the third quarter after a Wildcat turnover put the Vikings at the Cats’ 36.
But two outstanding defensive efforts by senior cornerback Scotty Selesia and junior defensive tackle Jesse Ahrenholtz ended the opportunity.
On 3rd-and-8, Selesia made a quick break on a slant pass and was in the jersey of the receiver when he batted away a sure first down.
“All the coaches noticed tonight the play of Scotty Selesia on defense,” said Craig. “Scotty stepped up and played outstanding. He was very physical and has improved a lot. His attitude on the sidelines was also outstanding. I can’t say enough good things about him tonight.”
On fourth down, Ahrenholtz broke through the Viking line almost immediately and threw down the Viking quarterback for a sack and an 11-yard loss.
Sonora went up 19-0 early in fourth quarter when sophomore fullback Steve Lawrence carried three Viking defenders into the endzone for a nine-yard touchdown.
The Wildcats put the game away two minutes later when Dambacher trampled several Viking defenders on a determined nine-yard scoring run.
“Our fullback tandem did a great job tonight,” said Craig. “The three of them together, they’re gonna do a great job in the league for us. You’ve got Nolan running hard, Brandon who’s a little faster and Stevie is kind of a combination of both of those guys. It’s great to have three guys that can rotate into that spot.”
The Wildcats spread the ball around to their stable of running backs throughout the night.
Cristian LaPertche had 65 yards on five carries, Camara had 57 yards on six attempts, quarterback Dylan Fernandes rushed 10 times for 50 yards and Lawrence had 39 yards on five carries. Fernandes also completed 4-of-6 passes for 38 yards.
Overall, the Wildcats out-gained the Vikings 373-197, rushing for 335 of those yards on 44 carries. They have now defeated Johansen for the 13th time in 14 contests.
“It was definitely an opening game,” said Craig. “It was sloppy. We had penalties, turnovers that we wish we didn’t have and that we definitely have to work on. We played hard and real physical which were the two things we were looking to do tonight.”
“I expected us to come out and play hard and I knew we were the better team,” said Dambacher. “And we came out and proved that. Even though it wasn’t our best performance, we still came out with a win. We need to be more disciplined, we had too many turnovers, but if we work on that, we’ll do really well.”
The Wildcats will hit the road next week to meet the Modesto Panthers, a team that will be hungry after losing their first two games.
“We were good tonight, but we need to be more focused on offense next week,” said Madruga. “We came out hard and didn’t give them anything tonight — that’s the way we play football up here in the mountains. That’s ‘Mountain Football.’ ”