POINT ARENA — The scene was set for a good old-fashioned gridiron brawl between Calistoga and Point Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Pickup trucks lined the weed-filled dirt track around Lloyd DeLore Memorial Field as if they were there for drive-in movie. Every collision on the gopher-filled grass field blasted a cloud of dust into the air. When the nonleague clash between the eight-man squads was over, the visiting Wildcats were 28-6 victors.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but we did the things we needed to do to win.” Calistoga head coach Jim Klaczak said. “If you want to be a champion, you have to win on the road and handle adversity. There is a big difference between saying it and doing it. Today these guys did that.”
The Wildcats (3-1) scored the final 28 points unanswered, 21 in the fourth quarter. After his team went into halftime up 7-6, Klaczak stressed to his team that it just need to keep pounding and its opponent would give in. Sure enough, the Pirates offense slowly became sluggish and for the second straight game Calistoga was the stronger team in the second half.
Point Arena (2-1) was the only team to score in the first quarter, when Jared Sundstrom found Nicki Bishop on a 6-yard dump pass to the right side with less than one minute remaining. The Pirates went for the two-point-conversion, but Bishop was stopped short on a running play. The 6-foot-3 senior quarterback struggled after that, finishing 8 of 30 passing for 38 yards with five interceptions.
Christian Caldera got the Wildcats’ offense going in the second quarter, as the freshman quarterback found a hole and the end zone on a 28-yard scramble. Fernando Rios blasted the extra point to give the Wildcats the lead for good, 7-6.
“I am proud of them.” Klaczak said. “We don’t have many in numbers, but we are big in heart.”
With the Calistoga defensive line starting to gain the upper hand in the trenches, Caldera picked up interceptions on back-to-back drives as Sundstrom continued to force passes. The Wildcats were unable to take advantage of the two takeaways, however.
Caldera almost had himself a third interception shortly into the third quarter. The safety got his hands on a deep pass and the ball bounced right into the hands of another standout Wildcats freshman, Juan Vega. The Calistoga sideline exploded in excitement for Vega, with many players and coaches celebrating the defensive back’s first-ever interception.
“We have been pounding and pounding on defense about coverages.” Klaczak said. “They finally figured it out today, and going forward we will be even better.”
Calistoga finally struck again in the fourth quarter, as Caldera found Daniel Parada on a 20-yard pass.
Jesus Rojas-Mendoza added a strong one-two punch with Caldera in the running game. The junior tailback finished with a game-high 85 rushing yards on 15 carries.
The Wildcats’ defense continued to take advantage of the Pirates, as Vega intercepted his second pass of the contest. Caldera ended up with 79 yards on 18 carries. They are two of seven freshmen playing for Calistoga this season.
“That young kid, when he started in the fall, I would have said he wouldn’t have played at all,” Klaczak said of Vega, one of seven freshmen on the Calistoga squad. “Look at him now. He is a special guy.”
It took only two plays for the Wildcats to extend their lead, as Caldera found the end zone on a 5-yard quarterback keeper. After Jasiel Flores notched Calistoga’s fifth interception, Rojas-Mendoza curled around the offensive line for the 5-yard touchdown in the final minutes.
After the game, the Wildcats rewarded Vega for his stepped-up play with an ice-water shower.
“I am happy with how today went,” Vega said. “I don’t care about personal stats; I just want to see the team win. I am proud of what this team has done and what we can accomplish.”
Calistoga has a bye next week before travelling to Rincon Valley Christian for another 1 p.m. Saturday game on Sept. 29.
“I am excited for the game against Rincon Valley,” Vega said. “They beat us in the championship game a few years back and we are coming back for that revenge. I feel we have a chance against them.”