The Sonora HIgh School Wildcats marched down the steps Thursday night at Dunlavy Field to the thump-thump-thump of the Golden Regiment band.
Fans dotted the green and gold concrete bleachers as the clock wound down to kickoff.
It was the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division V playoffs and No. 1 ranked Sonora’s opponent was the No. 8 seed the Highland Scots.
The Wildcats deferred the kick and opted for a pooch.
And the Scots misplayed the return, dropped the ball and the Wildcats recovered to start their night on the 44 yard line.
Two plays later a slippery Jake Gookin ran up the right sideline and scored a 36-yard touchdown.
WIth just 39 seconds off the clock, the ‘Cats led 7-0.
“Our quarterback managed the offense outstanding,” head coach Bryan Craig said. “He did a great job of reading what they (Highlands) were doing.”
On the ensuing kickoff Highlands’ Maurian Burrell shot up the middle to give the Scots good field position.
A well-executed reverse caught Sonora off guard and the Scots moved up to the ‘Cats’ 30 yard line.
A tackle for loss by Tyler Matyshock forced the Scots into a fourth and long. A Scots delay of game pushed them five yards further.
But a bullet of a pass up the middle resulted in a 38-yard Scots touchdown.
Sonora blocked the point after attempt and the score was 7-6 with 9:20 left in the first quarter.
CJ Castleman was on the receiving end of the kickoff, but the Scots were able to plug up his running lane, keeping the Cats on their own 34 to start the series.
The next series was a grind for the Wildcats. But they kept moving the sticks despite a stout defensive effort from the Scots.
Sonora’s Gookin again proved too elusive. On a fake handoff, he dodged the Scots defenders and breezed into the endzone.
The point after attempt was good and with 5:12 left in the first the score was 14-6.
Scots quarterback Gerald Davis proved to be a double threat. Not only was he rifling accurate passes downfield, he also showed his speed. With 3:45 left in the first quarter he took off after a fake handoff and ran the ball from near midfield for another Scots touchdown.
Sonora again blocked the point after attempt, keeping the lead at 14-12.
A personal foul by Sonora erased a lengthy kickoff return by Castleman.
And Sonora returned to their slogging ground game before Gookin found Rico Sanchez who was tackled at the Scots’ 20 yard line.
Jack Camara ran the ball in for a 15 yard touchdown with 2:06 left in the first, extending their lead to 20-16.
The first quarter was a matter of two well-matched teams trading jabs.
Highlands’ Davis threw a stripe for a 60-plus yard touchdown with 1:05 left.
This point after attempt? Finally good. The score? 20-19.
The next jab came from HIghlands who opted for an onside kick which they recovered at the ‘Cats 55 yard line.
The Scots went for it on fourth down, but the HIghlands receiver slipped and was unable to convert, giving the “Cats the ball near midfield to start the second quarter.
On the first play of the series Gookin again had the Scots guessing who had the ball as he sped up the sideline for another touchdown. A good PAT moved the score to 27-19.
The Wildcats’ defense smothered the Scots’ offense on the next drive, pushing them back deep into their own territory and forcing a punt.
HIghlands returned the gesture, forcing a turnover on downs. But they were backed up on their own 14.
The Scots fought their way down the field and into Wildcat territory, thanks in no small part to Davis’ arm and legs.
The ‘Cats had the Scots on their heels and facing a fourth and 12. But once again Davis’ passing abilities got the team out of the jam as Davis threw for another touchdown.
They needed the 2-point conversion to tie the game, but weren’t able to find the endzone. The score was 27-25 with 2:30 left in the half.
The Scots kept pressure on Gookin as the half expired and the score remained 27-25.
The Wildcats got the ball to start the second half and Castelman ran the ball out to the 30 yard line.
A bounding run down the field by Sonora’s Camara was shortened after an illegal block in the back, but the play still resulted in a first down.
A Gookin to Evan Bearden completion set up the ‘Cats’ next score which came courtesy of Gookin with 8:31 left in the third. Rico Sanchez leaped into the endzone for a two-point conversion and Sonora took a 35-25 lead.
An illegal block erased a touchdown kick return by the Scots as they began their second half offensively. Instead they started back at their 21 yard line.
And the Sonora defense took care of the rest, pinning them near the five and forcing a punt.
Camara again found the endzone and with 5:31 left in the third the ‘Cats led 42-25.
It took fewer than two minutes for the Scots to respond with a touchdown and a good point after attempt, pushing the score to 42-32.
Sonora scored again with 2:31 left to play in the third, adding another six points. What was intended to be a one-point conversion turned into a 2-point opportunity after an offsides call against the Scots. Camara broke the line and moved the score to 50-32.
Camara intercepted a pass up the middle and the Wildcats took over with 1:25 left in the third.
A 40-yard Gookin rushing touchdown on the next play didn’t quite knock the wind out of the Scots, despite the ‘Cats 57-32 lead.
As the third quarter ran down, Highlands’ Davis through another deep pass for a completion in the Wildcats’ red zone.
The Scots scored four seconds into the final quarter and shortened the Sonora lead to 57-40 after Davis earned the two-point conversion.
Junior Mike McKernon scored the next Sonora touchdown and helped extend the ‘Cats lead to 64-40 with 6:33 left in the game.
Sonora got another scoring opportunity after forcing a turnover on downs with 4:12 left in the game.
Gookin added another rushing touchdown, this one for 54 yards, to give the Wildcats a 70-40 lead with 3:18 to go.
The Scots would put one more touchdown and a two-point conversion on the board with 1:39 left, trimming the lead to 70-48.
Sonora took a knee as the game clock ticked to zero. Final score: Sonora, 70, Highlands 48.
“It was definitely close. It even felt close at the end when we won it,” Craig said.
The second half turnaround wasn’t about adjustments. It was about playing the way they had been coached all week.
This week Craig said they’ll focus on playing a full four quarters of football.
“We’ve got to do a better job next week,” he said.
Sonora will play at home Friday, Nov. 17 against the winner of the Colfax vs. Orestimba game.