The lilypad collapsed out from under the Bret Harte High School Bullfrogs when the Sonora High School Wildcats pounced into their pond on Friday.
Now on a two-game streak after winning 47-7 at Dorroh Field in Angels Camp, Coach Brian Craig said the team is proud of their achievement to forge a winning record after a disappointing preseason.
“It’s always a big win when you win the first one. It’s a nice way to start the league off,” he said.
Senior running back Connor Pullen, who scored two touchdowns, said the team played well, and even got better as the game went on.
“It’s a stepping stone for the rest of the year,” he said.
Bret Harte High School coach Casey Kester said his team was unable to stop the unrelenting ground and running game of the Wildcats.
“They just had a very well-prepared offense. They know what they do and they do it very well,” he said.
Kester added that six injuries, including senior Logan Van Zandt breaking his clavicle and being sent to the emergency room, diminished the Bullfrogs’ chances.
The matchup between Sonora High School and Bret Harte High School lived up to its reputation as a highly contested competition. Fans from both teams were vociferous in their support of the players and appeared to compete with each other for superior volume. The players — who jumped, fist-bumped and head-butted their teammates with vigor — were driven by the knowledge that the first game of league play could define the rest of their season.
Sonora High School’s 1-4 record belied the true identity of a team that was resurgent and eager following their first win, 36-21, against Merrill F. West High School in Tracy on Sept. 14. Bret Harte High School, with a 2-3 record, was also coming off a win against Linden High School on Sept. 21, but memories of a brutal 70-15 loss to Sonora High School in 2017 still lingered.
The first-week matchup of the Mother Lode League opened with a bang from the vista of the home stands, but with a whimper from the visitor section.
On the opening drive, the Bullfrogs sought to lay claim and ownership to their home field. With less than two minutes of the first quarter already underway, senior quarterback Ryan Kraft rolled from out of the pocket and spotted junior wide receiver Hunter Brewer sprinting through open field into the Wildcat red zone.
Brewer cradled the ball as it arced through the air and jogged into the endzone, putting them up 7-0 with 10:45 remaining.
That brief flash of offensive acumen by the Bullfrogs in the opening seconds proved rare for the duration of the game, and their zealous enthusiasm even seemed to hinder their efforts in their first defensive plays. A personal foul (called from a torpedoed tackle into a Wildcat kickoff returner) and an encroachment foul earned Sonora High School more yards than they gained through their offense.
The Bullfrogs earned some vindication when the Wildcats lost track of their own momentum and fumbled the ball away while near the Bret Harte High School 25 yard line.
When a later punt from Bret Harte High School was returned by senior Wildcat Ryan Wynne 55 yards all the way to the 15 yard line, a holding foul reversed the Wildcat gains. Still, the Wildcats intended to even the score from their earlier mistake.
The gains were slow, but persistent. Even a fumble — very near where they lost the ball on another fumble only minutes earlier — was collected by a Sonora High School player. When they finally found their way into the endzone, senior wide receiver Evan Bearden made the score appear easy.
Bearden thrust one arm into the air and the ball seemed to almost magnetically connect with his single, outstretched claw. He froze in place after the catch, appearing to have surprised even himself.
The second quarter opened at a draw, but more points soon followed. Turning the ball over from Bret Harte High School, the Wildcats again played patient but persistent football. Some catches went awry and some runs were a loss of yards, but eventually they found themselves only one yard from the endzone again. Pullen chugged through the mass of bodies and found the points the Wildcats needed to go up 7-14 with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Led by multiple runs from senior running back CJ Castleman, the Wildcats again drove upfield in the remaining minutes of the quarter. With only seconds remaining, and at fourth and one on the 12 yard line, the Wildcats called a time out to strategize. In the ensuing play, senior quarterback Jake Gookin snuck around the defensive Bullfrogs and earned the Wildcats even more points.
And at the start of the second half, the Bullfrogs were caught unprepared yet again. On the opening drive, Castleman caught a pass to run in a touchdown, but a subsequent point after attempt was botched.
The second quarter had just begun and the Wildcats had generated a 7-27 gulf between themselves and Bret Harte High School.
For many of the remaining minutes, the teams appeared to be at a stalemate. Punts were exchanged from both teams, but the Bullfrogs defense still struggled to contain the Wildcat offense. Pullen pulled Sonora High School up again with a running touchdown with about two minutes remaining in the quarter, and a two point conversion widened the gulf to 7-35.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the lead the Wildcats held over the Bullfrogs appeared to be insurmountable. And with a victory almost assured, the Wildcats set out to make up for lost time and earn the points that eluded them earlier in the season. Within five minutes, the Wildcats scored two touchdowns to increase the score to 7-47.
The Bullfrogs made attempts to earn some points in the final moments, with some successful plays, but an interception from Wildcat defensive back Devun Battle dashed their hopes.
Next Friday, Oct. 5, Bret Harte High School faces off against Amador High School in Amador. Sonora High School will matchup against Argonaut High School at home.
Craig said the team would not rest on its laurels after the two game streak.
“The old cliche goes take it one week at a time,” he said.