The Sonora High School Wildcats are officially on a winning streak after conquering the Argonaut High School Mustangs 41-7 at Dunlavy Field Friday night.
“We’re playing better. It took us seven weeks but we’re finally playing physical football,” said Coach Brian Craig.
Senior fullback Dalton Tartar, who had two touchdowns Friday night, said the team’s third win in a row was an indicator for a successful remainder of the season.
“I think personally we grinded hard. We had a pretty hard preseason. I think we are really coming together as a team,” he said.
Both teams were eager to extend their Mother Lode League winning streaks on Friday. Argonaut High School, was 5-1 at the start of the game after a 28-0 victory over Summerville High School, played with a brazen style which befitted their success throughout the season. Sonora High School was 2-4 after a 47-7 victory over Bret Harte High School last week and ambitious to reinforce their newfound victorious sensibility and generate a proper winning streak.
From the opening whistle, the cowbells in the home crowd clanged with zeal for the continued success of the Wildcats.
The thunderous drums of the Sonora High School marching band boomed through the stands, packed with students, parents, community members and children who danced and sauntered along the concrete steps.
Sonora High School home football games are a community affair. And now, with the repeated and consistent success of the Wildcats, the crowd was ready to bask in their team’s glory.
The opening minutes saw both teams battle at a defensive stalemate. The Argonauts made little progress on their opening drive and were forced to punt, while the Wildcats were dredged backward by a costly push-in-the-back foul and running plays that made little progress upfield.
The scoring opened from Wildcat quarterback Jake Gookin, who whizzed to the wide line and past the Argonaut High School defensive line for a more than 50-yard sprint into the endzone. With three minutes remaining in the first half, the Wildcats had set a precedent that they hoped would hold for the remainder of the game.
The Mustangs were quick to retaliate and busted up field on a trick pitch play, but their advances were quickly stifled by the staunch defensive efforts of the Wildcats.
But against the Mustangs on Friday, the Wildcats’ running game was the true hero. Led by senior running back CJ Castleman, Sonora High School consistently earned valuable yardage, first downs and team confidence.
It was all the more unexpected when, with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, that a precarious pass earned Sonora High School a further lead. Senior Evan Bearden, both of his arms outstretched ahead of him, narrowly caught an arced pass and ran the ball into the endzone. A successful two-point conversion brought the score to 15-0.
Minutes later, after a punt from Argonaut High School, senior Bryan Wynne appeared to be making a successful return for another touchdown.
After passing through almost the entire Mustangs punt team, Wynne was brought down at about the 20 yard line by the punter. The efforts of the Mustangs were in vain however, because just two plays later, senior fullback Dalton Tartar ran the remainder of the distance into the endzone. This time, a two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, which left the score at 21-0.
In subsequent plays through the half, the Sonora High School defense did their best to retain the shutout. Defensive lineman Garrett Anderson made key blocks and stops, and senior wide receiver Devun Battle intercepted a pass.
Sophomore running back Justin Morgan made a more than 80-yard, side-to-side run for an apparent touchdown on the next play, but the score was reversed due to a Sonora High School holding penalty.
The defensive effort held true through the end of the half to keep the Wildcats with a firm, three-touchdown lead. And just 30 seconds into the second half, the Wildcats widened their lead even further after Gookin drew out another 50-yard run.
For the third quarter, the Mustangs were still unable to fully negotiate their way to a touchdown. On a fourth down, about 20 yards from the Wildcat endzone, the Mustangs were stopped in the tracks with a formidable defensive effort.
The Wildcats scrapped for a hard-fought first down, but a later fumble popped out of a scrum of players and gave the Mustangs advantageous field position to end the shutout. With less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, they finally put their first points on the board and brought the score to 28-7.
But the Wildcats were unwilling to let their lead be minimized and reinstated the divide with another touchdown from Tarter. As the minutes wound down it became apparent that the lead held by Sonora High School could not be surmounted.
In the final five minutes, the Wildcats mounted a slow, attritional ground game to move upfield. Just as it occurred earlier, their patience and persistence paid off.
Running with the support of his offensive lineman, Gookin scored his third touchdown of the game to bring the score to 41-7.
Next week Sonora High School will face off in their homecoming game against Amador High School.
Craig said the team could still improve on the three fumbles and one interception they gave up against Argonaut.
“There’s plenty of room to get better,” he said. “We still have to play a game but there’s still all the festivities to get the community more involved.”
Tarter said the homecoming matchup would just be another game where the team would have to focus.
“We want to beat them,” he said.