PORTOLA VALLEY — The Calistoga High football team traveled more than two hours to open its season against Woodside Priory in the hills above Palo Alto on Friday afternoon, where giant redwood trees line the road to the grounds.
The Panthers’ picturesque field had no goalposts, but they knew how to play eight-man football as they demonstrated in a 26-12 victory and avenged last season’s 46-6 loss at the hands of the Wildcats.
The competitive contest ended with a large shoving brawl, as a hard late hit started the tumble and the final eight seconds of the contest were run off the clock. No players were ejected, however.
“They wanted it much more after they got hammered last year,” Calistoga head coach Jim Klaczak said. “Most of those kids are back and I give them credit. They were a well-coached team and they earned the victory.”
Christian Caldera once again proved to be superhuman for the Wildcats, as the sophomore had 208 yards on the ground in 28 carries. The quarterback took heavy punishment all afternoon, as early season offensive line mistakes put the young signal caller in danger on each snap. The Wildcats struggled on fourth downs, turning over the ball on downs four times.
Calistoga’s first time on defense of the season went just how they drew it up. Coming into the contest a man point of focus was stopping Woodside Priory star tight end David Ajanaku-Makun, as the 6-5 junior was a major weapon for the Panthers. Calistoga was able to jam the lanky athlete at the line of scrimmage on each play of the drive and forced a turnover on downs.
Calistoga scored the first touchdown of the game when Caldera connected with Yuli Caballero on a 36-yard pass on a fourth down. A major factor for the Wildcats was the absence of senior Jesus Rojas, a key two-way player who missed the game because of an injury. Rojas isn’t expected to miss much time and made the trip to the game.
A key part of the contest was at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers had just scored on an Eli Roybal 21-yard touchdown run and made the two-point-conversion. On the third play of the ensuing Calistoga drive, Jashae Williams intercepted a tipped Caldera pass and returned it to the Wildcats’ 5-yard line.
Roybal then quickly punched in the score to put the Panthers up 14-6. The senior running back had 92 yards on 18 carries and was trouble for Calistoga all afternoon.
“Football teams live and die on their offensive lines and we are a work in progress right now, especially in the beginning of the year. We are thin and young in the lines and it showed,” Klaczak said. “They couldn’t run the ball against us last year, and this year they just pounded us. Our youth caught up to us in the first game, and that’s the thing with youth. Someday they’re going to be great and some days they’re going to be not so great."
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Outside of Caldera the Wildcats offense struggled for the game, as five other players combined for 33-yards on 19 carries.
After the interception the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs on their next drive. The Panthers offense continued to push forward, as Covington found Caleb Huffman on a 31-yard touchdown pass down the left side of the field. A Calistoga cornerback was neck and neck with Huffman, but the sophomore made an impressive catch with hands in his face for the touchdown.
The Wildcats attempted to drive down the field and had one of their better opportunities, but a 12-play drive ended when Caldera was tackled just short of the first down marker on fourth down. The sophomore two-way player did all he could to keep the Wildcats in the game, as Caldera intercepted a Covington pass that would have gone for another touchdown for the Panthers.
“I just feel this is a wake up call. We didn’t realize what we were in for,” Christian Caldera said. “We have a bunch of new guys this year and they didn’t know what to expect. We just need to learn from this and fix some things for next week.”
Caldera then had one of his bigger runs of the afternoon, when the shifty quarterback ran 29 yards to put the Wildcats within 20 yards of the end zone with less than 30 seconds left in the first half. The Panthers held strong and sacked Caldera on the next play and Calistoga wasn’t ready to rush to the line to attempt a fine play of the half.
The second half didn’t start out well for Calistoga, as another promising drive ended in a turnover on downs. Woodside Priory added once again to their lead through the air, as Covington finally was able to connect with his top receiver Ajanaku-Makun.
The 11-yard catch in the end zone was the only damage Ajanaku-Makun was able to do and he was neutralized for most of the game.
Caldera was able to add his first touchdown of the season, as he took a quarterback keeper around the right side of the Wildcats offense line and fought for a 30-yard touchdown run.
“I feel like they just wanted to get back us for last year and then we got a little bit overconfident from what we did to them last year,” Caldera said. “So we didn’t play as hard as we did last year.”
The Wildcats travel to Upper Lake (0-1) next week.