Cheerleaders, students, parents and kids mulled around the glass doors of the Calistoga High locker room waiting to greet the Wildcats football team with signs and words of consolation.
Inside the locker room, players still in uniform hung their heads and fought off tears. Some let them flow.
Eventually, Calistoga head coach Jim Klaczak finished his postgame thoughts and the doors opened, letting friends and family stream in to hug and comfort the Wildcats in the wake of their disappointing 46-28 Homecoming loss to Tomales on Friday night.
The second straight defeat for Calistoga dropped the Wildcats to 4-3 overall and 0-2 in the North Central League III South. They now sit tied with Roseland Collegiate Prep as the only two winless teams in the league.
“Our playoff life is shot in the ass, I think, to be honest,” said Calistoga head coach Jim Klaczak. “… We could end up 6-3, but we’ll only be 2-2 in league. I don’t know if we deserve to be in the playoffs at 2-2 in league.”
The path to a postseason berth still exists and winning their final two games would probably get the Wildcats in, but Friday night’s loss put them in a situation where it’s either win out or go home.
Homecoming got off to an inauspicious start before the game even officially began. An argument between Klaczak and an assistant coach prior to kickoff seemed to have an effect on the players and it showed early. Tomales jumped out to a 12-0 lead on its first two possessions just eight minutes into the contest, after Calistoga’s first drive lasted only two plays and ended with a fumble.
“Those first two touchdowns were just gimmes,” Klaczak said. “That was all from the drama.”
That set the tone for the evening. The Wildcats were in for a night of catch-up.
In the second quarter, they nearly made up that distance. They scored three of their four touchdowns on the night in that frame, all courtesy of quarterback Christian Caldera. The sophomore hit Jesus Rojas-Mendoza for a 38-yard touchdown pass and then scored on runs of 1 and 65 yards, the latter of which cut Tomales’ lead to 26-20 with a minute left in the half.
The Braves had extended their lead thanks to a 70-yard kickoff return and long scoring drive late in the second quarter. But they suddenly found themselves with their backs on their own goal line, desperately defending their one-score lead.
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Their drive following Caldera’s 65-yard score ended abruptly on an interception by Caldera that gave the Wildcats possession at their own 5 just 17 seconds before halftime. Caldera once again found Rojas-Mendoza, who wound his way through the defense and downfield before being brought down at the Braves’ 1-yard line, a 74-yard gain, with just two seconds left on the clock.
Calistoga’s last play of the half, a run by Caldera, was stopped short, sending the Braves to the locker room with a 26-20 lead. That would be the closest Calistoga would come to retaking the lead.
The second half was all Tomales. The Braves intercepted Caldera on the Wildcats’ first drive of the third and converted that into a touchdown two plays later. They scored once more later in the third and held the hosts to just 20 yards of offense on 12 plays in the quarter.
The Braves scored their final touchdown after an eight-play drive ate up half of the fourth quarter. That gave them enough room to withstand one final Calistoga touchdown, a 1-yard run from Caldera for his fourth score of the game with a minute left in the fourth.
“We score the touchdown, we’re ahead and we get the ball to start the second half,” Klaczak said about the chance to score just before halftime. “Maybe that carries us through, we get something going in the second half and the kids get fired up a bit and we play a bit better. But every time we turn around, somebody is hurt or banged up. We just don’t have any depth. That’s spilled milk. We had a shot at it.”
Caldera once again shouldered the offensive load. He rushed for 107 yards with three scores, despite netting negative yardage on 13 of his 30 carries. He also had his best passing game to date, completing 9 of 13 passes for 217 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
Rojas-Mendoza was the recipient of five of those passes and logged 118 receiving yards with the 38-yard touchdown grab.
While the some of the numbers were promising, it just wasn’t enough against the Braves. Tomales got nearly all of its offense out of three players – junior running back Misael Gonzalez (17 carries, 78 rushing yards, 1 touchdown), senior running back Felipe Martinez (9 carries, 43 rushing yards, 1 touchdown) and junior quarterback Zach Porteus (24 carries, 117 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns).
“They don’t have the backs they’ve had in the past, but they have a pretty good line,” Klaczak said. “They do the things they do.”
The path forward for Calistoga is simple: win the next two games and see where the chips fall for the playoffs.
They’ll get a chance to right the ship next Saturday with a trip to San Francisco to play Stuart Hall (3-3, 1-1 NCL III-South) at Kezar Stadium.