The Wildcats have a bye week next Friday and will return for their first game of the Mother Lode League, away against Bret Harte on Sept. 28.

Just in time for the start of Mother Lode League play, the ‘Cats are back.

Sonora High School earned their first win of the season Friday night, besting Merrill F. West High School 36-21 at the Steve Lopez Stadium in Tracy.

“That first win is alway the hardest, whether it’s your first game or your fifth game,” coach Brian Craig said.

Senior quarterback Jake Gookin said the team was emboldened by the victory, adding, “it feels really good to finally get one under our belt.”

The game saw multiple touchdowns from multiple players and was reflective of a collective effort. The game was not without some mistakes, but it was indicative of a Sonora High School football team that was ready for yet another unbeaten streak in the Mother Lode League, Gookin said.

The Wolfpack had alternating success leading into Friday’s game, with wins against Ceres High School and James C. Enochs High School, but losses against Atwater High School and Kimball High School.

Their haphazard record was enough to invite confidence in the Wildcats supporters, who identified the previous week’s 39-20 loss to Hilmar High School as an offensive breakthrough.

It was the first game of Sonora High School’s season where the team had scored more than one touchdown. Though their record was still lopsided, the team hoped a collective effort on both sides of the ball would finally earn a victory.

The fans did not have long to wait for the breakthrough, and what they witnessed was a Sonora High School team that was absent for every game of the season until Friday night.

West High School took an early advantage with a kickoff return to the Wildcats 40 yard line, but were unable advance until the fourth down. On a misdirected pass from the Wolfpack quarterback, sophomore defensive end Evan Bearden moved into the ball’s trajectory, caught it, and ran over 50 yards for a touchdown in the opening two minutes. Fans rose to their feet in celebration, and the sideline players, coaching staff and cheerleaders all ran toward the end zone, cheering and waving their arms.

An offside penalty from the Wolfpack on the PAT attempt brought the Wildcats into more advantageous territory to attempt a two-point conversion, but they were unsuccessful.

Most of the remaining first quarter resulted in a virtual stalemate, with few notable offensive plays, but multiple defensive achievements. In subsequent defensive plays, the Wildcats swarmed like a rabid pack. Senior defensive back Dalton Cuneo assisted with stops, and senior defensive lineman Juan Gonzalez made blocks to stop momentum.

A progressive drive in the first quarter put the Wildcats into scoring position, but at the beginning of the second quarter, the Wolfpack took advantage of an errant ball and recovered control. On the next play, the Wolfpack made an over 40-yard pass which brought them to the 21 yard line.

The Wolfpack converted for a touchdown, but a PAT that missed left of the uprights resulted in a 6-6 tie.

After a strong run upfield by senior running back Mike McKernon, the WIldcats took a timeout to strategize their next play. The extra planning proved successful, with senior wide receiver Evan Bearden catching a long pass from Gookin to put the Wildcats again in the lead. A successful two-point conversion play evened the loss from the previous attempt and brought the score to 14-7.

Intent on solidifying their lead for the second half, the Wildcats led another offensive assault against the Wolfpack. With one minute remaining, McKernan drove in another touchdown and the team successfully pulled off another two-point conversion.

West High School nearly scored again after a long pass brought them within 10 yards of the endzone, but Sonora High School effectively combatted that effort to end the half with a 16-point lead.

On the receiving end of the second-half kickoff, the Wildcats sought to widen their lead even more. A fumble ended their opening drive, but the Wildcats defense restrained the Wolfpack from making any offensive leads of their own.

The Wildcats missed a 23 yard field goal left of the uprights with five minutes remaining, but they regained control of the ball within 10 yards of the endzone only a few plays later. Senior Nick Crockett scored the fourth touchdown of the night for the Wildcats, bringing the score to 29-6 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

By the time the last quarter began, West High School lost two players to injury but scored another touchdown to narrow the margin.

The rest of the game was a test to the Wildcats to stave off the attack of the Wildcats. Unwilling to relent, senior punt returner Brian Wynne ran for over 40 yards to put the team in scoring position yet again. Senior Dalton Tarter took in the touchdown on a play that saw two more West High School players led off the field for injury, bringing the score to 36-13.

West High School was able to eek in another touchdown and a two-point conversion with a minute remaining, but the game belonged to the Wildcats.

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

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