By Ross Johnson

The Union Democrat

The Sonora Wildcats hosted the Hilmar Yellow Jackets Friday, securing their first home win of the season by a score of 20-13.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, but a large gap in the Wildcat’s endzone defense left a wide open Hilmar receiver, who caught a touchdown as the period expired. The Jacket kicker missed the point after, leaving the score at 13-7.

Senior running back Kellen Phillips returned the ensuing kickoff to the Wildcats’ 31-yard line, but a brutal hit to his left knee knocked him to the turf for several moments. He left the field under his own power but did not return.

The Wildcats showed early offensive promise, but at times seemed their own worst enemy. A holding penalty on the offensive line negated a 40 yard run by junior running back C.J. Castleman, but senior fullback Jack Camara made up more than the difference by breaking a tackle from the Jackets’ 38-yard line and scoring with 8:05 left in the half. A successful extra point conversion put Sonora up 14-13.

Senior defensive back Rico Sanchez created the pivot point of the game with a critical interception that stopped Hilmar’s responding drive in its tracks at the 6:36 mark. Junior quarterback Jake Gookin then broke out of the backfield and scored from the 50-yard line with 5:37 left, but a bobbled extra point snap and failed conversion left the score at 20-13.

A Hilmar field goal attempt on their ensuing possession missed the mark, but the Jacket defense next forced a Sonora punt. The Wildcats defense then forced a punt of their own, which the Jackets tried and failed to fake.

Once Sonora retained the ball, they tried a long passing play in the expiring seconds of the half, but multiple Jacket defenders took Gookin down in a sack at his own 47-yard line.

Hilmar received the second half kickoff, but both teams traded three and out drives, punting the ball back and forth to each other for a scoreless third quarter.

The fourth quarter played out much the same way, until Hilmar drove into Sonora’s redzone. The Jackets looked ready to score from the Wildcats’ 9-yard line, but a key false start penalty on first down backed them up to the 14. A first down dive earned the Jackets two yards, but on second and third downs the quarterback threw two critical incompletions into the endzone.

With 2:13 left in the game, the Jackets decided to go for the score on fourth down. Their quarterback dropped back and threw to the back left corner of the endzone. There, junior Wildcat cornerback Bryan Wynne made a huge defensive play, batting the ball out of the Jacket receiver’s hands and saving the game. From there, the Wildcats retained possession of the ball and ran out the clock.

“I feel good,” Coach Bryan Craig said after the victory. “It’s going right, but we’re not there yet. We’re going to continue to work on it and get better. I’m proud of the guys. It was a hard fought game, and I’m proud of the way they played.”

Sonora next hosts Calaveras High School at Dunlavy Field at 7 p.m. Sept. 22. The Wildcats then travel to Amador High to take on the Buffaloes at 7 p.m. Sept. 29.