BENICIA – On a night where forecasted rain never happened, the American Canyon High football team showered head coach Larry Singer with a bucket of Gatorade instead.
The visiting Wolves routed Benicia 41-7 at Drolette Stadium, finishing 6-3 overall and 4-0 in the Solano County Athletic Conference. It is the sixth time in as many seasons the Wolves have either won the SCAC, either shared or outright. But this is the first time since 2013 that American Canyon has won sole possession of the league title.
The Wolves learned Saturday that they will open their final CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs as the No. 7 seed and host No. 10 River Valley (7-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday. like fellow Napa Valley schools Napa, Vintage and Justin-Siena, they will head to the North Coast Section next school year.
“We set a goal and that was to win a league championship outright,” Singer said. “They had it in their sights and they grabbed it. I wouldn’t call it a complete game. We have some stuff to clean up. We didn’t have great kickoff coverage.”
The Wolves took control moments after the national anthem, as Kama Aalona returned the opening kickoff 82 yards to the Benicia 11-yard line. Moments later, quarterback LaVar Seay scored on a 6-yard run.
That sight would become familiar as Seay left his footprints on every square inch of Drolette Stadium, carrying the ball seven times for 242 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored on electrifying runs of 92 and 68 yards on similar plays. The Panthers’ defense was overly concerned with dive-back Eddie Byrdsong, thus creating lanes for Seay that opened up like a hospitality suite. Byrdsong also scored three touchdowns, twice from 1 yard away and another from 18 yards out.
“That’s the threat of our offense,” Singer said of Seay. “When you go against us, you have to pick your poison. That hurts teams.”
The offensive line of Lucas Gramlick, Hunter Snyder, Jacob Mitchell, Shawn Sto Domingo and Joseph Mendoza created holes as the Wolves matriculated for 466 yards rushing. Aalona added 106 yards on six carries. Byrdsong had 93 yards on 18 attempts.
“The offensive line has done a great job of committing themselves to being better communicators with each other and making sure that everyone is on the same page,” Singer said.
Defensively, the Wolves limited Benicia to 173 yards on 54 plays.
Adrian Anicete, Antonio Perez and Seay each recorded a quarterback sack. Derrick Conner, Alfredo Calderon and Anicete each had a tackle for a loss. Anicete also led the Wolves with four impact tackles (gains of 0-3 yards). Gramlick and Conner each had three. Kekoa Wilson, Darius Thomas, Malik Maxwell, Tyler Nguyen, Angel Cazares and Aalona each had one.
“One of the great things that has shown is that our defensive line has improved quite a bit,” Singer said. “We’re not just bumping bellies anymore. We’re using our hands and getting separation and seeing where the plays are going. Defensively, the guys are recognizing the calls. Everyone is communicating much better on the field.”
The outright league crown was especially satisfying for the Wolves because they started the season 0-3. From there, they regathered their footing and have won six in a row.
“It showed us that we have to trust the process. What we coach and what we do is working,” Singer said. “We make it a point to play teams that are going to challenge us. The boys stuck with it. They realized that after the first three games, we had work to do. They made a commitment to put that work in.”
Based on winning the title outright, Singer is hopeful of a home game, but is not fixated on the matter.
“The section is going to do what it wants to do,” Singer said. “It’s something you can’t predict. Everyone tries and the seeds come out much different. We’ll take what we get. Hopefully we get a home game.”
American Canyon JV 27, Benicia 21
The Wolves rushed for 223 yards in Friday night’s win, finishing the season 7-2 overall and 3-1 in SCAC.
James Larson led the offense with 103 yards on 21 carries, including a 1-yard scoring run. Vincent Espejo and Nate Countoriotis added rushing touchdowns of 62 and 4 yards, respectively.
Jordan Fisher had the play of the night. The Benicia punter fielded an errant snap as Fisher was tackling him, and the Wolves freshman stole the ball out of his hands and ran 37 yards for a score.
Defensively for the Wolves, Isaac Correa had an interception, a tackle for a loss, and two impact tackles. Espejo and Harold Malone each had a tackle for a loss, and Espejo and Alexander Guevara each had an impact tackle.
While head coach Fred Tenbrink is pleased with the Wolves’ record, he is equally happy that the victories came with proper player development along the way.
“We have 60-70 percent of the roster that are brand new players that hadn’t played football before,’ he said. “We also had a lot of injuries. We lost five starting players. Our kids did really well. They fought all season long, no matter who had to go out and perform.”
Tenbrink said the development is significant because the JV Wolves have a stake in continuing the varsity tradition of success.
“I can’t say enough for my coaching staff,” he said. “(Varsity assistant coach) Chris Yepson was saying this was the best JV coaching staff he had seen here. They have a lot of knowledge and practical skill. They taught these kids so much.”