UPPER LAKE – The Calistoga High football team had an interesting start to its Friday night, which ultimately culminated in a 39-20 win over Upper Lake.
Hours before the originally scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff, Calistoga received notice that the officials who were supposed to work the game were no longer available and that the game could potentially be postponed until Saturday. That wouldn’t work for the Wildcats, head coach Jim Klaczak explained, because most of his players work on weekends.
Luckily, a resolution was reached: The game would be called by a single official, instead of the usual three or four.
For all he’s seen and experienced in football over his 40-plus years being around the game, that was a new experience for Klaczak.
“I’ve played a game with three (officials), but usually, even in a scrimmage, you have three or four,” he said. “He gave it a good honest effort. I thought he did a good job.”
Still, the confusion from earlier in the day seemed to carry over into the first half of the game as Calistoga trailed the winless Cougars 14-13 at halftime. The deficit could have been much worse were it not for the heroics of freshman quarterback Christian Caldera, who had returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and hit Daniel Parada late in the first quarter for a 62-yard score.
The Wildcats netted only 18 rushing yards on 17 carries in the first half, moving backward more than forward, with nine of their first-half plays accounting for zero or negative yards.
“You know, you’re geared up to play at 7, you find out in the morning you may not be playing, then you are playing,” Klaczak said. “Then, ‘When is the bus coming? When are we eating? When are we getting out of class?’ I told the guys great teams overcome all that. … One official, same for them, same for us, but great teams overcome that and come back.”
Taking its coach’s words into account, Calistoga turned into a great team in the second half. The Wildcats outscored the Cougars 26-6 over the final 24 minutes, including two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, to seal the win and move to 2-1 on the season.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a W,” Klaczak said.
On top of his kickoff-return touchdown, Caldera completed 4 of 5 passes for 166 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, helping account for four of the Wildcats’ six scores.
For all the credit Caldera deserves, his teammates also stepped up when it mattered. Following a score late in the fourth quarter that gave Calistoga a 33-20 lead, it was the Wildcats’ defense that slammed the door shut on any comeback attempt. Parada forced an Upper Lake fumble, which Sullivan recovered at the Cougars’ 5-yard line. Two plays later, Jasiel Flores scored, putting the Wildcats up 39-20 with under two minutes to go.
Klaczak said a large part of Calistoga’s late-game success on Friday was a direct result of the offseason conditioning he put them through in the late summer.
“Now in the fourth quarter they go, ‘Hey, we’re stronger than they are. We can pound them.’ That was a big thing and I think that played a part of it,” he said.
For most of the game, Calistoga looked to be the team running on fumes. The Cougars danced around the Wildcats in the first half and went into the break with 159 yards of offense to Calistoga’s 95.
Then the doors closed to the locker rooms at halftime. Whatever Klaczak said, the Wildcats came out rejuvenated.
“I’ve been known to vent some motivational aspects towards them, let’s just say it that way,” Klaczak said. “They decided when they came out that they were going to be more motivated.”
They certainly looked it, as they rode a strong second-half effort to the win.