CALISTOGA – The Calistoga High seniors went out with a bang as the Wildcats set an eight-man football school record Friday in defeating Tomales, 86-56, on Senior Night.
Despite suiting up only 12 players for the North Central League III contest, seven of them seniors, the Wildcats broke the single-game scoring record set by last year’s team in a 74-14 win over Laytonville in its season opener.
“I was a part of the team that broke the record last year and now I am apart of another one,” Flavio Fernandez said. “I have such a great team and it feels great. We had some ups and downs during the game, but we all played such a great game today.”
The steady quarterback play of Fernandez has been a beacon of light for head coach Mike Ervin this season. The senior, one of just two starters that had varsity experience before this season, had a game-high 175 rushing yards on only nine carries Friday.
“Flo did a tremendous job for us a quarterback tonight,” Ervin said. “I don’t know how many yards we had, but we ran the ball well.”
After the high-powered Wildcats offense was held in check the past two weeks by Branson and Rincon Valley Christian, the hosts looked like a well-oiled machine. Calistoga scored on its first two offensive snaps of the game.
Fernandez found Pablo Escalante wide open down the field on a 33-yard play-action pass, then got the ball back quickly for Calistoga (5-2, 1-2 NCL III). The two way player intercepted Tomales quarterback Brady Woodward’s throw and returned it to the Braves’ 5-yard line, from which senior power running back Ethan Castillo punched the ball in for the first of four touchdowns. The Wildcats converted on both two-point-conversions, with Jesus Mendoza running in the first and Fernandez adding the conversion on the second score, for a 16-0 lead.
“The record feels better tonight knowing this is my last home game here at Calistoga as a senior,” Castillo said. “I was really glad I was able to put on a show for everyone that came out to watch us.”
Calistoga kept rolling on its third offensive drive, with Fernandez finding Daniel Parada on a play-action pass to put the hosts up 24-6 just six minutes into the first quarter.
The Braves (1-4, 0-3 NCL III) are an extremely young team, with seven of their 13 players being underclassmen. But the visitors from Marin County got their second touchdown of the game early in the second quarter, as Woodward took a designed run 12 yards for the score. The two-point-conversion was stopped by a pack of Wildcat defenders.
Fernandez killed any early Tomales momentum, as the quarterback hurt the Braves with his legs on the next drive. The senior took a 51-yard run around the left side of the offensive line for the score, but the conversion was stuffed.
“Tomales doesn’t have a senior on their team and that was a big difference tonight,” Ervin said. “Our kids, even though we haven’t had a lot of players that have played football before, we have a lot of seniors, which helps us out a lot even if they don’t have much experience.”
The Calistoga offense cooled down in the middle of the second quarter, which allowed Tomales to get within 10 points. Woodward scored from 1 yard out in the seventh minute, but that would be the closest the Braves would get to tying the game.
Fernandez continued to work his magic, finishing off a 10-play drive with a 2-yard keeper. The highlight of the drive was when Castillo took a handoff, lost control of the ball mid-run, juggling it in the air, before regain control of it on a 34-yard run.
“Ethan hasn’t played football since his sophomore year, and for him to come out and play fullback so well has been tremendous,” Ervin said. “He has done it all season for us.”
After Calistoga got the ball back 30 seconds left before halftime, Fernandez connected with Parada for the second time on a 30-yard touchdown pass. Fernandez finished with 304 yards of total offense while contributing on eight scores.
“Everyone did what they were expected to do and everyone took part in the victory tonight,” Fernandez said. “Coach has been telling us this may be our last game. We don’t know what is going to happen for next week’s game. We have a couple players with down grades, but hopefully we will have one more game. This is my senior year and I want to be able to pour out my heart one the field one more time.”
The Wildcats received the ball to start the second half and continued with their high tempo. Castillo took it in from 51 yards out on the first play of the third quarter, putting Calistoga up 54-20.
A key part of the Wildcats offense all season, Castillo has been asked to do more with Calistoga down to a dozen players. The Wildcats lost former starting running back Jasiel Flores a few weeks ago due to a team suspension. Castillo filled the junior’s shoes on Friday, finishing with 102 yards and four touchdowns on nine carries.
“It is crazy, man. I didn’t think this (Senior Night) would come so fast,” Castillo said. “In the past, watching the other seniors go through SeniorNnight, I saw them and knew I didn’t want that to happen so soon. With our other home game being cancelled, this was a shock to us that this would be our final game at home.”
Tomales answered with running back Chris Bernal scoring from a yard out to close the gap to 54-28. Fernandez continued to keep the Wildcats’ offensive machine clicking, however, as the 5-foot-10 athlete found a gap and scored on a 45-yard run.
A major key to Calistoga’s offensive success this year has been the growth of the offensive line. The unit of Ignacio Blancas, Sammy Vegas, William McBeardsley and Christian Tovar has been a serviceable group this season, some facing their first varsity action this season.
“To be honest, the offensive line really stepped up for us today,” Ervin said. “We did plays that we hadn’t run all year.”
Between the two teams, Friday’s game featured 18 touchdowns and 755 total yards. Even in the wacky world of eight-man football, 143 points was unusual.
“Tonight’s was a very interesting game – maybe a little too interesting for me,” Ervin admitted.
Fernandez ended the scoring for Calistoga on the defensive side of the ball, intercepting a trick-play pass by Tomales running back Andy Azevedo and returning it 58 yards for the score.
Calistoga is scheduled to head to San Francisco next Saturday to take on NCL III opponent Stuart Hall at noon. With the injuries to the Wildcats this season and potential grade issues, however, there is concern among their coaches that Calistoga may not have eight players available for the game.
“The sad part about tonight is that we may not have a game next week because of numbers,” Ervin said. “We only have 12 guys left on the roster.”