It’s been 14 years since both the Napa High and Vintage football teams had shots at a league championship going into their season-ending Big Game, and Napa wasn’t about to blow its side of the deal Friday night.
Facing a young Petaluma High team coming off its first Vine Valley Athletic League win of the season, the Grizzlies played one of their best games of the year in a 49-7 rout at Memorial Stadium.
Napa (7-2, 4-1 VVAL) needed only a half to decide it, actually, scoring all of its points before halftime before playing the rest of the game with a running clock.
Of the Grizzlies’ 14 plays from scrimmage in the first half, seven went for touchdowns and they committed only two offensive penalties. Three of the scores came after fumble recoveries and one after a blocked punt.
“We talked a lot this week about starting fast and we did that,” said Grizzlies head coach Richie Wessman, who said he got every player in the game. “We keep getting better in all three phases.”
To keep it from becoming a “trap game,” where a team falls into the trap of looking ahead to the next opponent and struggles against the opponent at hand, Napa offensive lineman Cole Lex said nobody was allowed to even say “Vintage” all week.
“Coach (Wessman) said, ‘Don’t even think about the Big Game.’ Petaluma was our focus this week,” the junior said after the game. “We respect every team and our main focus is to dominate, as Coach says, and don’t think ahead; that’s how you get cocky and that’s how you’ll lose the game. That was our main goal and I think we achieved that tonight. Now we’re going to start talking about the Big Game.”
Lex and Co. dominated up front from the start. After Cole Rasmussen returned the opening kickoff to the Napa 40-yard line, Benito Saldivar shot through a hole on the first play and hit the gas for a 60-yard touchdown run. Erik Vargas began a 7-for-7 night of extra points for a 7-0 lead with just 20 seconds elapsed.
The Trojans (2-7, 1-4 VVAL) responded with a decent kickoff return and got into Napa territory thanks to a facemask penalty. But on their fourth play, they fumbled into the hands of the Grizzlies’ Jesse Desa at the Napa 45. Four plays later, Saldivar was off to the race again for a 59-yard scoring scamper.
Petaluma’s next drive also ended with a fumble, which Thomas Hatton recovered at the 50. Brock Bowers took a handoff and bolted to the 13 to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Trey Dennis.
The Trojans got a first down on a defensive pass interference call on their ensuing drive, but ended up punting to the Napa 22. On the next play, Bowers caught a perfect pass from Isaiah Newton over the middle and accelerated for a 78-yard touchdown and 28-0 lead with two minutes left in the opening quarter.
Petaluma moved the ball better as the game went on, despite falling behind more and more. Junior quarterback Jack Hartman found Gianni Johnson for two first-down completions on the Trojans’ fourth drive, but was tackled for a loss on fourth down at the Napa 41.
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Newton ran a keeper off left tackle on the next play and followed blockers for a 59-yard touchdown and 35-0 lead.
“Everyone on the team did their 1-11s,” Lex said. “If I’m doing my job on the line, I block my guy and the linebacker, and if the rest of the guys do it, 11 over 11 is 1 touchdown. “
The Trojans’ fifth series ended with a fumble recovery by Napa’s Berna Leon. Three plays later, Bowers got pass and juked his way into the end zone from 24 yards out to make it 42-0. Kyle Jezycki then blocked a Petaluma punt and teammate Tyler Clark fell on the ball at the Trojans’ 12. Saldivar scored his third touchdown of the night on the next play, following blocker Jack Giguiere into the end zone for a 49-0 lead with 1:10 left in the half.
With a running clock in the second half, Petaluma received the opening kickoff and put together a 19-play, 81-yard scoring drive capped by Dante Ratto’s 1-yard plunge. The drive, aided by two pass interference penalties, lasted 14 minutes, 19 seconds.
Petaluma’s perseverance reminded Newton of how Napa stayed in games during last year’s 0-10 season.
“They definitely had some will power to them. A lot of people (on our team) know that feeling of being down a lot and just trying to keep it going. It takes a lot of heart to keep it going and keep fighting and trying to keep in the game,” the senior said. “For them to come out in the third quarter and score, even though they’re down 49-0 with a running clock, shows they have a lot of will and they want to win and they want to play football.”
But Petaluma’s last drive ended with a fourth lost fumble, recovered by Andrew Daniel, and Napa drove to the Trojans’ 7 before time expired.
“We wanted to carry a lot of momentum into next week because it’s going to be a vital game to tie for first in the league and potentially get a home game for playoffs further on,” Newton added. “We’re excited. Whether it’s a little game against Middletown or a Big Game against Vintage, it’s football and you’ve got to keep the game plan simple and do your roles correctly.”
Added Lex, “I know all the Vintage guys, but they have some athletes and they might do things we haven’t seen on film, so we’ve got to be cautious.”
The Napa seniors have yet to beat Vintage at any level.
“Freshman year we lost 14-7. My sophomore year on varsity, we lost 14-7, and last year we lost 69-14,” Newton said, correctly rattling off the scores without thinking. “This year we’re seniors and we’re just trying to get the last laugh. Our team was committed the whole summer, focusing and listening to what Coach Wessman and all the position coaches have had to say, and that’s what keeps us going.”