CLOVERDALE — With the St. Helena football team scheduled to welcome Clear Lake of Lakeport this Friday for the de facto North Central League I championship game, all the Saints thought they had to do was avoid a bear trap disguised as an Eagles nest.
St. Helena stayed laser-focused on the game at hand last Friday and easily handled a hungry Cloverdale side on the Eagles’ homecoming night, 49-6, behind quarterback Spencer Printz’s team-high 98 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
“We put in a lot of hard work and dedication during practice and throughout the week there is a lot of defensive focus, then film on Saturdays followed by film on Mondays,” St. Helena defensive lineman Cal Lehman said. “We try to really focus each week, just focus on one game at a time, don't worry about next week or the week after. This week was just Cloverdale and we weren’t looking ahead, but now we are on to Clear Lake.”
Unfortunately these days, the COVID-19 pandemic can impact sports at anytime and it currently has the Clear Lake squad in quarantine, St. Helena head coach Ian MacMillan said Thursday morning, forcing Friday's scheduled showdown to be canceled. There is no rescheduled date for the game, MacMillan said.
When the year started, it was predicted that St. Helena and Middletown would battle it out for the league title. But with Clear Lake defeating the Mustangs in early October, the clash for the league title had moved to the Cardinals’ game at St. Helena.
“It's great to have such a big game in front of the home crowd, just to have support from everyone, support from school, family, friends, just everyone, and it will feel great to get a big win at home like that,” Lehman said. “But again, you never know what will happen. But I just love to play at home more because you have the support from everyone.”
For now, St. Helena's next game is at home Oct. 22 against Kelseyville.
At Cloverdale, the Eagles decided to kick the ball to the Saints to open the game and they would never see a tied contest again. St. Helena gashed the Cloverdale defense for gains of 7, 6 and 5 yards from three different rushers. The drive came to an end on the ninth play, when Ivan Robledo punched it in from 5 yards out. Francisco Arias was a perfect 8-for-8 last week on extra point attempts against Lower Lake, and the senior followed that up with the first of seven pristine kicks on Friday evening for a 7-0 lead.
“I think the last couple weeks we've improved in terms of our effort during practice, and our focus has gotten better,” MacMillan said. “We realize that we only have five guaranteed games left and nothing past that is guaranteed so we just need to enjoy the moment.”
Cloverdale’s lone score of the game came with a little controversy, as the Eagles recovered found themselves on the Saints’ 3-yard line after a pass deflection was deemed to be a strip sack. St. Helena looked to have forced a field goal after holding Cloverdale on the first three downs in the red zone. But the hosts went for it on fourth down, and Caden Axell connected with Dylan Muller on a 6-yard touchdown pass. It wasn’t an easy catch, the wide receiver stretching out with one arm for the score. Cloverdale missed the extra point to still trail, 7-6.
It wasn’t long before the Saints found the end zone again, as Robledo took a carry up the middle for 38 yards before being chased down in the Eagles’ red zone. But Printz picked up the first of his two touchdowns, as the senior took a keeper around the left side of the offensive line for the 15-yard score.
The Cloverdale offense was never able to handle the Saints’ defensive line, as the unit was consistently in the Eagles’ backfield. One drive encapsulated defensive coordinator Steve Vargus’ crew on the night.
On the first play, Axell was sacked for a 13-yard loss, followed up by a 2-yard loss on a completed pass. On the next two plays, Axell was running for his life and experienced the same fate, as the quarterback was swarmed by the Saints defense and crushed into the turf.
“Well, we know we're not the biggest, so we have to be faster and we have to stay lower and get leverage on them,” Lehman said. “And we wanted it more, so we had the drive and we kept going. We didn't slow up, and that's really important in big games like this, it's just to not let up.”
The scores kept coming for the Saints, as Robledo grabbed his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 17-yard burst. The senior two-way player finished with seven carries for 94 yards, all in the first half. Harrison Ronayne had the largest rush of the evening, as the running back took a carry 43 yards before the halftime break to push the Saints’ lead to 28-6.
The homecoming floats and royal court couldn’t help the Eagles on the field, as Elguin Flores became the fourth rusher with a touchdown for St. Helena early in the third quarter. Cloverdale tried passing the ball to spark a comeback, but Robledo intercepted Axell’s first pass of the second half and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. Printz added a 14-yard quarterback keeper in the fourth quarter to cap the rout.