Small errors can lose big games.

If the Sonora High School Wildcats intend to score their first points of the season, much less win against the Escalon High School Cougars on Friday night, those individual mistakes must be eliminated, said football coach Brian Craig.

“If you break it down, it’s little things that keep us from getting in the endzone. If we fix those little things, we’re going to be fine,” Craig said. “I don’t think we’re at the point of frustration. We’re looking in the mirror to see what we have to fix to get things rolling again.”

The Wildcats were exceptionally close to completing touchdowns, even though the score lines of their first two games — a 49-0 away loss against Oakdale High School and a 37-0 home loss against Ripon High School — didn’t suggest it.

But close wasn’t going to cut it this week, Craig said.

“I think the biggest thing we’re focusing in on is doing the right thing on every single play. We are going focus on some critical moments in that game that had to with the outcome.”

The mood and motivation of the Sonora High School football squad following their losses was, in both games, a stark contrast to the enthusiasm of the opening downs.

Against Ripon High School last Friday, the Wildcats defense held a scoreless draw in the first quarter. The most notable offensive effort of the quarter came from senior Karson Clifton, whose more than 50-yard run brought the Wildcats within 10 yards of the endzone.

An opening score was imminent, until the first major mistake of the game upended the team’s fortunes. A fumble was followed by Ripon High School opening up the scoreline against the Wildcats. Not yet dispirited, Clifton, senior running back Mike McKernon and sophomore running back Justin Morgan brought the team back within scoring position. One yard from a first-down conversion, their momentum was halted and the ball was returned to Ripon High School.

Repeated mistakes then amounted to a complete collapse. A 60-yard run from Ripon High School extended the scoreline to 14-0. Quarterback Jake Gookin was tackled on the one-yard-line and a Wildcats punt was blocked in the endzone. As the team retreated to the locker room at the half, they were three touchdowns in the hole with no resounding response on how to reverse the direction of the game.

“We’re really close. It’s a penalty or one player missing a block or one player not doing what they're supposed to do and messing up the drive,” Craig said. “These are minor things, that if corrected, could have been huge in the momentum of that game. It's got to be a team effort and it’s not just one individual.”

As the team convened for Monday practice and film review, there wasn’t a revolutionary reevaluation of team strategy. There was no doubt the team was dedicated, Craig said, but just as important as the players’ grit and determination for a victory would have to be their on-field focus.

“The guys outside lost focus and relaxed. Those are correctable things,” Craig said. “Our concentration is something that we’re working on, and playing to the whistle until that play is done. Do your job. It’s as simple as that.”

No player would be removed or relegated from their current positions in the effort to score points and win on Friday, Craig said. There would also not be any “punishment” conditioning with the team doing their usual exercise of 20 “gassers” (running the width of the field and back) on Monday, an intense two-minute drive drill on Tuesday, and around a dozen 40-yard sprints on Wednesday.

Standout performances in both of the games have been from offensive and defensive lineman senior Garrett Anderson, Clifton (who ran for more than 140 yards against Ripon High School) and fullback/linebacker Mckernan, Craig said.

But one of the most important facets of team seniority was accountability, he added.

“Everybody needs to get better where they’re at. We have got plenty of room for improvement here,” he said.

“Players will do two things at practice, what they're supposed to do or what they are allowed to do. If they’re doing what they’re supposed to do then the tempo is right and every single play we’re doing correctly. That's the focus this week.”

But even with their focus and attention honed on Friday night, a victory is not assured against the Escalon High School Cougars, who are 2-0 and coming off a 21-7 win against the Wildcats’ Mother Lode League rivals Calaveras High School on Friday.

Escalon High School Coach Andrew Beam recognized the Wildcats’ 0-2 record to start the season, but said he had no reason to “underestimate the toughest team we face this early in the season.”

“If we prepare like we're playing a 0-2 team they're going to run us out of the building,” he said, noting that Sonora High School’s first two games were against perhaps the better teams in the area.

“Trying to face an offense like that triple option that Sonora runs is very difficult. I don't think there’s anything that prepares you for that offense besides the real deal,” he said.

Offensively, Beam said Escalon High School would be focused on “containing the athleticism” of the Sonora High School quarterback, senior Jake Gookin, senior running back C.J. Castleman, and the team’s fullback.

“The three guys that touch the ball are three guys that can score on any play and are very explosive,” he said.

Three “team leaders” for the Cougars included senior quarterback Lucca Dutra, senior running back and safety Frank Leal and senior tight end and linebacker Nash Satnat, Beam said.
“They are our three two-way guys. They play very impactful positions for us,” he said.

Sonora High School Wildcats will play against the Escalon High School Cougars on Friday at 7 p.m. at Dunlavy Field in Sonora.

It will be the first game the schools have played against each other since 2011.

“In our opening drive we'd like to put a touchdown on the board and say. ‘OK let’s go. We've got this thing on track now,’” Craig said. “I think it will be huge for us. I think everybody knows that the big statement is just to play good solid football for four quarters.”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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