With teammates shouting “Beast Mode” each time he bulled through the Wood defense for another large chunk of yardage, junior running back Eddie Byrdsong helped give the American Canyon High football team new life Friday night.
Emulating Oakland Raiders fan favorite Marshawn Lynch with not only his long curly locks but furious running style, Byrdsong helped open up the Wolves’ passing game as they bounced back from a surreal shutout loss with their first victory of the season, 42-29, at Wolf Den Stadium.
Byrdsong – forced to sit out the Wolves’ first three games because of his transfer from Vintage last year – rushed for a team-high 107 yards on 19 carries, including touchdown plunges of 1 and 2 yards.
“I couldn’t do it without my line and my coaches,” said Byrdsong, adding that it was “an unbelievable feeling” to bounce back from a 53-0 loss to Inderkum the week before and end a three-game skid. “Every week we’d get denied and we just kept trying and trying and trying and the coaches never quit on us. We had to come together as a family and play as a unit.”
Kama Aalona added 105 yards in 11 totes and fellow senior Brenden Johnson supplied 38 yards in seven carries, including 3- and 9-yard scores.
Senior quarterback LaVar Seay was an efficient 8 of 10 passing for a season-high 198 yards, with scoring strikes to a wide-open Robbin Brown of 30 and 69 yards in a 45-second span just before halftime that gave American Canyon (1-3) a 28-22 lead at the break. Seay also had six rushes for 27 yards.
“We were firing on all cylinders,” Seay said. “Everyone clicked in mentally before the game; everyone knew what they were supposed to do. We came together as a team and got the job done. We left (our losses) behind and came in here focused, ready to work. But this is only the beginning. We’re ready to go.”
Brown was wide open on both TD passes, no doubt because Byrdsong, Aalona and Johnson had the Wildcats respecting the run.
“When you’re a running team, they don’t expect you to throw the ball, so we threw the ball and we kinda had the advantage on that,” Seay said.
Added Byrdsong, “It opens up a whole new level of diversity.”
American Canyon head coach Larry Singer had such confidence in Byrdsong and the offensive linemen Lucas Gramlick, Jacob Mitchell, Kekoa Wilson, Shawn Sto Domingo and Nikolai Tabas that he went for it on fourth-and-1 from the American Canyon 29 four plays into the third quarter. Byrdsong fought his way to the 33 and, on the 10th play, plowed in from a yard out for a decisive 35-22 lead.
“He’s a monster,” Seay said. “It’s good to have him back.”
“Getting Eddie back was a huge boost for us,” the coach said, “and I thought the O-line came out strong. It’s great when we can put together a drive and take six minutes off the clock. Having a strong passing game and a quarterback that can put the ball out there like that is a huge benefit and something teams have to prepare for now.”
Wood responded with a 13-play scoring drive capped by McFadden’s 2-yard burst, cutting its deficit to 35-29 with a half-minute left in the third quarter.
But the Wolves ate up the clock with an 11-play scoring march, capped by Johnson with a 9-yard sweep with 5:39 left in the game. With junior Andy Jones quarterbacking, Wood got as far as the American Canyon 34 on its last drive. But a sack by Tabas and LaVar Seay on fourth-and-18 ended the Wildcats’ hopes, and the Wolves ran out the clock.
In the post-game talk, Singer told him team “don’t be satisfied” with where they are at this point in the season, and Seay took it to heart.
“We’re going to stay humble and take it one game at a time from here on out,” he said.
Until the TD passes to Brown late in the first half gave the Wolves their first lead and put them on top for good, American Canyon seemed to be trying to find a way to stop Wood speedster Asa Wondeh.
The elusive senior returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a score. After the Wolves went three-and-out on their first possession, Wondeh mostly handed off to top rusher Daniel McFadden and the Wildcats ran out of downs at the Wolves’ 42. Byrdsong scored from the 2 nine plays later, and the first of seven extra points by Jose Luis B. Lopez tied the score 7-7.
On the next play from scrimmage, however, Wondeh called his own number and scampered 55 yards to regain Wood’s lead, 14-7.
“Number 11 is a dynamic little runner and he hurt us,” Singer said of Wondeh. “He exposed the weakness that we’ve got and he hurt us.”
American Canyon responded with 10-play scoring drive that saw LaVar Seay complete his first three passes – of 15 yards to Brandon Seay, 22 to Darius Thomas and 12 to Byrdsong – and Johnson ice it with a 3-yard run to tie the score at 14.
Once again, Wondeh responded with a big play. At the end of a 10-play drive, he rolled out left and slashed up the middle for a 43-yard yard scoring scamper. On the extra point, holder Zachary McLellan got a high snap and ran it in for a 22-14 lead.
“There are a few hiccups on defense we need to clean up, and we can’t think we can go into league or even hope to go to playoffs with bad special teams play,” Singer said. “But these junior and senior classes have been really great about doing the work, putting in the time in the film room and weight room.”
American Canyon responded with the first scoring strike to Brown, after a leaping 20-yard catch by Aalona got the Wolves in Wildcats territory. Johnson got the ball right back with an interception and return to the American Canyon 31, setting up Brown’s 69-yard TD grab.
“We had a lot of guys step up,” Singer said. “Our scout team did a great job trying to replicate their offense. The guys you don’t hear about, the Caleb Vallejos, the Gurki Sandhus, the Jorge Vargases, helped out getting us ready. It was a great team win.”
The Wolves will host Mission-San Francisco next Friday night.
American Canyon JV 34, Wood 7
Jordan Fisher put the Wolves (2-1) on the board with a 42-yard touchdown run in the first half. Wood countered with a 20-yard scoring pass to tie it up by halftime.
But American Canyon regained the lead and pulled away with four second-half scores – on 24- and 5-yard runs by Jimmy Larson, a 15-yard scoring strike from Nate Countoriotis to Larson, and a 38-yard run by Fisher.
Justin del Rosario kicked the Wolves’ four extra points.
American Canyon head coach Fred Tenbrink said his team played better on both sides of the ball after halftime.
“Because we have so many new kids who have never played before, about 60 percent of them, they don’t know how good they actually are. In the second half, they started playing to their potential, embracing their responsibilities and being aggressive to the ball.”
He was pleased with right tackle Daniel Liu, right guard Romeo Dacayanan, center Josh Ricafort, left guard Jeffery Brown and left tackle Jordan Hamilton.
“The offensive line really stepped up in the second half,” Tenbrink said.