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Wildcats topple Jaguars, win 4th straight

Jesse Jones / Union Democrat Sonora defensive lineman Lane Mierop (24) stuffs Kimball runner Rashaad Cooper (22) for a short gain Friday night during the Wildcats’ 21-20 victory at Dunlavy Field.
With 2:46 remaining Friday night at Dunlavy Field, the Sonora Wildcats playoff hopes were flickering.

The Wildcats were clinging to a 21-20 lead, but Kimball had just scored and called timeout to decide its plan of attack.

When the Jaguars returned to the gridiron, the kicker wasn’t among them. The Jaguars were going for 2 and the lead and, maybe, the win.

Their play, give it to their star running back Gaige Allen, who entered the contest with 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. They only needed three yards and he averages 10-plus.

Allen took a handoff and headed outside.

“I was sitting in the middle and was thinking pass and who I had to cover,” said Wildcat linebacker Steve Lawrence. “I saw the guard pull and I launched after him. We had James (Mitchell) out there setting the edge and we had our safety and cornerback coming up there and smacking the heck out of them.”

“He was going to the outside and then he cut it back,” said Sonora defensive back Andrew Nessi. “When he cut back, that wall just came and ‘Boom!’ He hit that wall and he wasn’t going anywhere.”

The Wildcats stuffed the conversion, recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt and ran out the clock to claim their fourth straight victory, 21-20, and keep their postseason dream alive.

“I’m feeling on top of the world,” Lawrence said. “I haven’t felt this good at a football game in a long time. This is a big, big, big win. It’s a huge step ahead and I’m proud of these guys, everyone on this team.”

Giving the ball to Allen may have not been the best plan. The Wildcat defense had continually hit and punished the speedster throughout the night allowing just 31 yards on 11 carries. But he was tough and dragged himself slowly back to the huddle after each take down.

But throwing the ball for the Jaguars would have also come with risk.

In the first quarter, Sonora defensive back Carter Denton blitzed Kimball quarterback Ben Juarez. He came free and put on a clean, hard shot that forced an errant toss and knocked the signal caller out for the remainder of the first half.

“That was something we put in this week,” Denton said. “I was waiting for them to call it and I got my chance and it felt very good.”

“That’s something that we picked up on film, bringing Carter from the backside,” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “And knocking him out kind of said, ‘OK, here we are. This is the way we’re gonna play, can you match up with us?’ They tried for awhile, but I don’t think they’ve seen somebody that physical for four quarters. There’s a couple of guys that you know are gonna hit guys, but it’s contagious. The entire defense were taking their shots tonight. We were swarming, physical, I couldn’t be prouder.”

On the next play, Sonora defensive end Tait Mele led a group of Wildcats to the quarterback for a 7-yard sack.

In reality, there weren’t a lot of options for the Kimball offense. They had a couple of big pass plays, a couple of touchdowns, but those yards did not come easy. They came with a price. 

Kimball is not a passing team, it likes to run and averages 250-plus yards each game. On Friday, the Jaguars rushed for a grand total of 77 yards on 34 carries. They were forced to the air.

“I felt like we were really physical from the get-go,” Craig said. “That was the difference in the game. You look across the field and see athletes everywhere. But, we brought a real physical game tonight and I don’t know they were ready for that.”

“We came out firing on all cylinders, our defense really set the tempo today,” Nessi said. “Everyone was flying around hitting. It didn’t matter who it was, we were all hitting and being aggressive. We were being the team we want to be, the team that everyone is scared of.”

The Wildcat offense matched the physical play of their defensive brethren.

Sonora, namely fullback K.C. Brandsted and quarterback Zach Atwood, churned, grinded, zipped and juked through the Jaguar defense for 298 yards on 54 carries. Atwood had 138 on 18 attempts while the workhorse Brandsted had 108 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.

On the Wildcats’ first offensive play, after recovering a Kimball fumble, Atwood exploded 50 yards to the Jaguar 3. Brandsted scored the next play for a quick 6-0 lead.

Kimball grabbed its first, and only, lead, 7-6, early in the second quarter. A 33-yard pass play set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge.

Sonora took back the advantage 10 plays and 73 yards later. Kade Barajas took an option pitch from Atwood and weaved his way behind his blockers for a 19-yard score. Brandsted ran in the 2-point conversion and the Cats were ahead 14-7 at halftime.

The third quarter was mostly a defensive stalemate until late.

Kimball tied the game with 14 seconds left in the third quarter on a fourth down, 19-yard aerial strike.

After the teams traded possessions in the final quarter, the Wildcats went on their game-winning drive, 56 yards in seven plays, capped by a Billy Kiriluk 1-yard dive.

“It was intense, both teams played super hard,” Atwood said. “They came out hitting hard, we came out hitting hard, but it came down to up front and our line was killing it. Anything we had, we could run. They were making key blocks.”

“That was a fun one,” said Wildcat lineman Brandon Phelan. “It was hard up front. Our quarterback made some great reads and we had some great runs. We played a really tough football game for all four quarters. Their D-line was physical, but we’ve come a long ways as juniors. We’ve got some experience now and we’re just gonna keep growing and get better.”

Game notes: The Wildcats are tied with Oakdale and Sierra for second place in the VOL. … Sonora had zero passing yards in a game for the third time this season. … The Wildcats had three turnovers to Kimball’s one. … Brandsted is just 11 yards short of 1,000, 989 and six TDs on 153 carries.


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