MANTECA — Sonora defensive end James Mitchell was excited to get on the field Friday.
Although it wasn’t the ideal situation, Mitchell took advantage of his chance, made a strong impact and helped the Wildcats earn their first victory of the season, a 49-0 Valley Oak League demolition of East Union.
Mitchell, a junior backup to senior ends Tait Mele and Jake Gustafson, got his opportunity one play into the game. Sonora was dealt a blow on its game-opening kickoff when Gustafson suffered a season-ending injury defending the return.
Mitchell was thrust into the starting role and took full advantage.
“That’s the first time I’ve really gotten on the field to play a few plays and it was super fun,” Mitchell said. “I went out and did what I needed to do, had fun and helped my team get that ‘W.’ ”
Mitchell and Mele each made two tackles for loss, with the senior adding a sack, to lead the Wildcats defense in limiting the Lancers to just 43 rushing yards and 91 total yards. As a team, Sonora made six tackles for loss.
“The biggest thing we were worried about tonight was our D-ends had to play well,” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “Because everything they run is misdirection, our ends had to play well and Tait Mele played outstanding. But the big praise goes to James Mitchell. He’s a backup player and was only in the game because of injury and he was huge for us.”
“Our defense was amazing, but the one who stands out to me is JB (James),” Mele said. “Jake Gustafson, our other starting end, got hurt on the very first play, and James stepped it up tonight and had a great game.”
The Lancers came into the game averaging just under 250 rushing yards per game and over five yards per carry. They rushed for 124 yards against Oakdale (28-8 loss) and 210 yards vs. Kimball (42-21 loss) and averaged 4 yards per carry. Against Sonora, East Union gained 1.3 yards per try.
“We needed this,” said Wildcat co-captain Steve Lawrence. “We’ve been down all season, getting beat, and to just come out and take it to a team was great. We got all of our players in the game and having our boy JB (Mitchell), who probably wasn’t thinking he was even gonna play today, step up and do a great job. Our linemen are just tough to go in there and smack people. The safeties and DBs were cracking — (Bryce) Sanguinetti had some nice hits tonight. Everyone had a great game on defense.”
While the Cat defense shut down the Lancers, Sonora’s offense sliced through East Union like it was warm butter.
The Wildcats ran over, through and behind the Lancers for 417 yards, led by fullback K.C. Brandsted’s 112.
Sonora scored on seven of nine drives and one of those failed attempts ended at the Lancer 2 as the first half clock expired.
Brandsted ran for a 3-yard gain on the Cats first drive to set up an 8-yard score from quarterback Zach Atwood.
On its next drive, slotback Ryan Puou scampered for 28 yards to set up a 10-yard score from fullback Billy Kiriluk.
Sonora made it three straight TD drives when Kiriluk plunged in from 2 yards to make the score 21-0 with 4:53 left in the first half.
The Wildcats went it 4 for 4 when Atwood scored on a 1-yard keep with 1:44 left.
Sonora tried to score again from its 48 in the last 28 seconds of the half, but fell 2 yards short.
“They (Lancers) were giving us some looks that we expected and that we practiced against all week,” Craig said. “And my junior line has been struggling a little bit, but things kind of clicked for them tonight. They saw the looks, they knew what to do and they blocked real well up front. Even our perimeter blocking was outstanding.”
The second half played out just like the first. Atwood hit Puou for a 32-yard pass, Andrew Nessi rushed for 23 yards and then Atwood scored his third TD of the game from 7 yards to make it 35-0. Atwood also completed 4 of 7 passes for 72 yards.
Sanguinetti, at slotback, took a pitch from Atwood on the next possession and raced down the sidelines 53 yards for a 42-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Kiriluk scored his third touchdown of the game, on his third carry, to finish the scoring with4:25 left.
“I think we finally played a complete football game,” Craig said. “The only turnover we had was late in the game and we got the ball back on the very next play. So you eliminate the turnovers and eliminate the penalties and play good physical football, good things happen. Our kids worked hard all week. We knew we had a good week of practice coming in and it really paid off.”
Sonora (1-5, 1-2 VOL) will look to start a winning streak next Friday when Weston Ranch visits Dunlavy Field for the Wildcats homecoming.
“We’ve got a taste of winning now,” Lawrence said. “We feel what its like to win and that should be our motivating factor for the rest of the season. We’ve just gotta play game-to-game, but our ultimate goal is to win out and, who knows, get into playoffs.”
“I asked them (postage) if it felt good to win,” Craig said. “I know it did for me. It’s been a long time. I’m hoping that this is one of many and that we’re gonna run the table from here.”