The fourth-seeded Justin-Siena High football team enjoyed many luxuries in a 55-14 demolition of No. 5 seed Lower Lake in Friday night’s North Coast Section Division 6 playoff quarterfinal.
The Braves (8-3) advanced to the semifinals, where they will visit No. 1 seed Kennedy-Richmond next Friday night. The Eagles (10-1) defeated Arcata, 35-6, in their quarterfinal on Friday to advance.
In other NCS Division 6 action, No. 3 Middletown (8-2) hammered No. 6 Pinole Valley (6-5), and No. 2 St. Bernard’s (7-3) was to host No. 7 Ygnacio Valley-Concord on Saturday.
Chief among the advantages Justin-Siena enjoyed was jumping out to a 7-0 lead before its explosive offense even took the field, thanks to Miles Williams’ 31-yard interception return for a score on the game’s second play from scrimmage and the first of seven extra points by James Snoke.
Once the offense took the field, the Braves had little trouble gobbling up real estate.
Led by the offensive line of Jonas Gonzales, Marcus Nunes, Nolan Dunkle, Christian Kappler and Wyatt Humphries, Justin-Siena amassed 485 yards of total offense (254 rushing, 231 passing) on 57 plays.
Noah Young accounted for 138 yards on 15 carries and four touchdowns. Backfield mate Matthew Heun added 89 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown, and quarterback Hudson Beers completed 17 of 28 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, one to Blake Hoban and another to Aidan Cushing.
Seven different Braves caught at least one pass from Beers, who threw nary an interception.
Defensively, Justin limited Lower Lake to 266 yards of offense on 44 plays. While the Trojans moved the ball well in doses, the Braves kept them from doing so consistently.
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“It’s close to our most complete performance of the season as far as consistency from all three phases,” Justin-Siena head coach Brandon LaRocco said.
While the Braves’ passing game has grabbed headlines the last two seasons with the likes of Barrett Donohoe and Beers, its ground game has been an underrated success. On Friday, the Braves punched holes in the Trojans’ defense with the running game, particularly in the early going, with Young and Heun routinely getting to the second level of the defense before getting contacted.
“We totally planned on doing that,” LaRocco said. “We’re always a firm believer in that if we feel like we can run the ball, we’re going to do it. Noah and Matt are good running backs. We felt like we matched up well up front.”
On the defensive side, the Braves were a nightmare for Trojans quarterback Vann Wilkins. The Justin defense sacked him six times and had him under severe duress the remainder of the evening.
“Our goal was to keep them to two big plays or less,” LaRocco said. “We pressured with three and four guys the entire night. Playing against the fronts we see in the (Vine Valley Athletic League) has really prepared us for this. Our ends are small but they are tough, physical football players. They have great motors.”
If you define big plays by 20 yards or more, the Trojans had four but only one came when the game was of any consequence. That came on Wilkins’ 25-yard run in the first quarter with Justin leading 7-0. The others came long after the Braves had built an enormous lead.
Grant Koehler and Kappler had two quarterback sacks apiece, and Angel Garcia, Solomone Anitoni and Nunes each tallied one. Caden Partlett and Dunkle led the team in impact tackles (stops resulting in gains between 0-3 yards). Jorge Dominguez, Koehler and Nunes each added one. Hoban intercepted a pass. Koehler and Kappler each recovered a fumble.
“We felt confident in our ability to play defense,” LaRocco said. “We’ve had some tough games, but we’ve grown a lot over the season. The battles we have been through this season have gotten us ready for playoff football.”