TOMALES — Calistoga was trailing Tomales 6-0 halfway through Friday night’s North Coast Section eight-man football playoff opener, with only 42 yards of total offense, when Wildcats head coach Jim Klaczak summoned his team to the east end zone.
The coach told the Wildcats his plan for the second half and spat out a couple of statements about his football coaching career. The first statement was that they needed to open up the passing game.
The other was that Klaczak had never lost a first-round playoff game in his career. That streak didn’t end Friday night, as Calistoga roared back for a 20-14 overtime victory to keep its season alive.
Napa County was well represented as North Coast Section varsity football playoffs kicked off Friday -- as all six local teams took to the grid…
Tomales (6-3) had defeated the Wildcats 46-28 in their homecoming game a month before. But Calistoga was given the No. 5 seed and a change to avenge the loss against the fourth-seeded Braves.
“I don’t have words for what I am feeling,” Calistoga’s Isaac Garcia said. “Unfortunately we lost homecoming this season to Tomales and we knew we wanted this. We knew that day we could have won and we wanted this. We came here and gave it our all.”
Added Calistoga quarterback Christian Caldera, “I feel that half of the team came into this game with a chip on their shoulder from the last time we played Tomales this season. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it. I am just really proud of my teammates. They showed up today and played one of our best games of the season.”
Calistoga had the ball first in overtime and scored on Caldera’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Garcia. Caldera had missed on both of his pass attempts in the first half, but was 6-of-8 for 75 yards after the break.
The Wildcats’ defense answered the call in overtime. The Braves were pushed backward on their first two downs and Caldera had his fingertips around an interception, but it was just out of reach. On its final chance to extend the game, Tomales was just a few yards from a first down when its hopes were dashed by a Garcia tackle.
The Braves’ field looked to be in good condition, but during pregame warmups it was quickly shown to have laid the groundwork for a mud bowl. The whole middle of the field was a slip and slide from end zone to end zone.
Keeping a hold of the football was an issue in the conditions, as Tomales looked to on its way to a first-quarter score. But Calistoga’s Fernando Rios pounced on a forced fumble. The senior captain had missed the last few games with a leg injury, but gutted through the pain in his first-ever football playoff game.
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Neither team scored in the first quarter, but the Braves always seemed close.
Tomales had the first real chance in the second quarter. The hosts were deep in the Wildcats’ red zone when a bad handoff at the 1-yard line was fallen on by the Wildcats’ Ruben Duenas. Calistoga quickly had to punt, however, and the Braves’ Misael Gonzalez took it in from 14 yards out on the next play. The two-point-conversion came up short.
The ball continued to bounce Calistoga’s way. On the first Tomales drive after the break, Garcia recovered a fumble in the slippery mud. Caldera connected with favorite wide receiver Garcia on the following drive. On fourth down and 17, the sophomore quarterback was chased around and threw up a deep pass to the back of the end zone. With outstretched arms, Garcia pulled it in for the 17-yard touchdown. The go-ahead two-point-conversion was stuffed.
But the Wildcats defense kept coming up huge, as Garcia nabbed an interception on the following drive.
Tomales regained its composure and once against started to head down the field inch by inch. Zach Porteous had the Braves’ offense back in the Wildcats’ red zone and the junior took a quarterback keeper through a hole in the offensive line. For the second time in the game, a miraculous forced fumble saved the Wildcats. Duenas popped the ball loose and Juan Vega, who was in at safety for an injured Caldera, snapped up the fumble in the end zone for the touchback.
Gonzalez took the first carry of a fourth-quarter Braves drive and appeared to be swarm tackled behind the line of scrimmage. But the junior broke a couple of tackles and took the ball 55 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Tomales got the two-point-conversion with a run from Porteous. The quarterback for Tomales also was hit by the injury bug, as both quarterbacks took vicious hits during the contest.
The Wildcats had just over six minutes to score again and added the tying two-point-conversion.
Caldera dug deep for his superman ability to put the Wildcats on his back. The sophomore slowly marched Calistoga down the field, but was about to face a long fourth down when a late facemask penalty came out against the Braves. On the next play a yellow flag flew into the air after another hard Caldera run, a facemask penalty against Tomales. After the two huge penalties, the Wildcats were in the red zone and Caldera wouldn’t be stopped. The multi-sport athlete took a quarterback keeper around the left side of the offensive line and ran into two Tomales defenders. Caldera ran over one and when the second one went for his legs, Caldera powered for the last couple of yards and dove for the end zone with an outstretched hand for the score. The tense two-point-conversion was a little anti climatic, as Caldera went untouched into the end zone to tie the game.
On the following kickoff the game took a turn for the bizarre. The Wildcats attempted to kick the ball deep, with one minute left on the clock. The kickoff was launched straightforward and bounced right off the chest of a Tomales returner and rocketed itself right back 20 yards to Duenas. The Calistoga sidelines were in pandemonium, as they attempted to win the game in regulation. The Wildcats couldn’t connect in the end zone, but did attempt a 47-yard field goal by Garcia. The sophomore, who is also on the soccer team, lined up the kick. A deep fog layer had come into the stadium and the kick was taking place in a mud puddle. The sophomore blasted the kick died straight and all the Calistoga supporters held their breath. The kick looked good if it had the distance, but the football fell just short of the lower upright to force overtime.
“I can’t say enough about these kids,” Klaczak said. “I told them all this week that it was going to be an uphill battle. They bought in and said ‘We got it coach,’ and they did.”