Two games into the 2018-19 football season, the Sonora High School Wildcats have failed to score any points.
Cut down by the Ripon High School Indians Friday night by a score of 34-0, the Wildcats are not mirroring the audacity and persistence of the previous year, Coach Brian Craig said.
“This year we’re just not mentally ready to play football yet. We have to work harder. This is a completely different group of kids, but they haven’t come out to play football yet.”
The 2017-18 season also began 0-2 before they went on to win eight games straight and top the Mother Lode League, but a “more disciplined” approach would be necessary to put up points and win games, Craig said.
Senior wide receiver Karson Clifton echoed his coach in a rallying call for his team to reevaluate their ambitions.
“I think we definitely need to work harder this week than we’ve ever worked,” he said. “We need to play mountain football. We haven’t played up to anybody’s expectations.”
The start of the game was cool and shaded, compared to the week prior in Oakdale when temperatures topped 90 degrees at the start of the game. The mood of the crowd also appeared more restrained than the week before, following the Wildcats 49-0 away game loss to Oakdale High School.
But the Dunlavy Field stands and the track surrounding the football field was replete with Sonora High School students reinforcing team support and spirit. Just 15 minutes before the start of the game, the Sonora High School band played a horn-driven rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” by Pink Floyd.
Like the week prior, the Wildcats started the game with trademark bravado and confidence. After forcing a first down on four short yardage plays, Clifton broke out of a thrashing scrum near the 40-yard-line with nothing but open field ahead of him. After a more than 50-yard run, a Ripon High School player pulled him down from the ankle near the 10-yard-line.
“If I was faster and more explosive I would have had two touchdowns tonight,” Clifton said.
Some of the patterns set in the previous week dogged the Wildcats early the game. On the next play, the football was fumbled and turned over to Ripon High School.
The Indians, coming off a 34-0 home win against Weston Ranch High School from Stockton last week, effectively obstructed the attritional onslaught of Sonora High School early in the game.
But Sonora High School, not to be outdone on their home turf, matched the Indians’ defensive effort to keep the scoreline even by the conclusion of the first quarter.
The second quarter began with reminiscence of the week prior, with Ripon High School scoring their first touchdown in the early seconds. But again, out of fealty for the mounting crowd encouragement, Clifton made another breakneck run across the field into Ripon High School territory. Runs from senior running back Mike McKernon and sophomore running back Justin Morgan improved the Wildcat field position until a holding penalty took them back, and pressed to convert on a fourth down, the volume of the band increased.
Less than a yard from first down conversion, the Wildcats were again stopped in their tracks.
After forcing a punt from Ripon High School, Sonora made yet another dramatic, high yardage play when senior quarterback Jake Gookin launched an arcing pass to the outstretched arms of sophomore wide receiver Gabe Milbourn.
In the subsequent plays, Sonora High School again failed to earn a first down. The first Ripon play after the fourth down turnover, a more than 60-yard run extended the scoreline to the Indians 14-0. Augmenting the defensive pressure, the Indians then tackled the quarterback on the one-yard-line, and blocked a punt within the end zone. An intransigent hammer-tackle and subsequent fumble retrieval from senior linebacker Trisan Hagstrom turned the ball back to the Wildcats, but on the Indians’ first offensive play in the waning seconds, they ran in another touchdown from a short pass.
As the half dawned on the field, an orange moon rose above the dense green tree line east of Sonora. But the high school was faced with a similar dilemma as the game prior, with opportunities that never came to fruition and a shut out from the endzone.
The Indians were also determined to widen their lead and exploit gaps in the Wildcat defense. At the start of the third quarter, they ran in another touchdown to bring the score to 27-0, but then missed a 37-yard field goal to the left of the uprights.
As the rest of the third quarter progressed, the Wildcats made some incremental progress upfield but were unable to convert their efforts to points. A relative stalemate held for much of the rest of the match, well into the fourth quarter, with punts exchanged across both ends of the field.
The Indians were unrelenting however, and scored yet another touchdown with six minutes remaining. Injury also continued to hamper the Wildcats, with junior offensive lineman Elijah MacDonald falling to an apparent leg injury a few minutes later.
The time clock drew to a close, attendance diminished and the game ended at 34-0.
Next Friday, the Wildcats will face off at home against Escalon High School.
Clifton said he planned to do “whatever I can to get a win,” but Craig cautioned that the school was another “good team.”
“We’re going to have to play big defense and try to get our offense rolling.” he said.