AMERICAN CANYON — The first half of the American Canyon High football team’s home opener dragged along Friday night, despite a huge crowd of home fans and followers from an opponent only 8½ miles away.

Wolves senior quarterback Vance Eschenburg and his St. Patrick-St. Vincent counterpart, junior Ja’vione Shepherd, combined to complete only 7-of-35 passes. Also slowing down the game were a bevy of penalties, mostly by American Canyon.

Having more success on the ground in the second half, and getting solid defense throughout, the Wolves pulled away with touchdowns runs of 4 yards, by Kaave Gaviola, and 1 yard, by Eschenburg, in a 20-6 victory at Wolf Den Stadium.

“We were trying to implement more passes in our plays (because) we’re going to do it a lot against other teams in the future,” said Gaviola, whose 9-yard score put American Canyon (2-0) on the board early in the second quarter. “We’re trying to implement it in our new (run-pass-option) offense and show how versatile our players are.”

After the Wolves coughed up a fumble at the Bruins’ 4-yard line and ran out of downs at St. Pat’s 27, a pass interference penalty on American Canyon helped the Bruins (0-2) get on the board with a six-play scoring march capped by Shepherd’s 35-yard keeper.

He held the ball in running back Bobby Brooks’ stomach until the last possible second before taking off up the middle. But Gaviola blocked the extra-point attempt, keeping it 6-0 with 18.7 seconds left in the opening quarter.

After four straight incompletions by Eschenburg, St. Pat’s took over on downs at its own 20 and gave the ball right back – on a Jordan Fisher interception at the Bruins’ 38. Five plays later, Gaviola juked 9 yards into the end zone, nearly going down twice but keeping his balance. Alex Llamas threaded the extra point for a 7-6 lead with 9:03 left in the half.

Derrick Conner’s second sack forced St. Pat’s to punt on its ensuing drive, and illegal procedure penalties led to another Bruins punt, American Canyon drove deep into St. Pat’s territory – only to cough up the ball at the 25 in the final minutes of the half.

Justin Del Rosario’s interception at midfield put the Wolves back in business just after halftime. But two holding calls and an illegal shift led to another punt.

“I feel it was more mental mistakes, things we know we have to polish during practice,” Gaviola said. “I don’t think their team showed hella adversity. I feel more that it was just us overthinking the actual game itself.”

But the Wolves avoided penalties on their next series and it paid off with a 10-play scoring drive iced by a 4-yard touchdown run by Gaviola, on a nice play in which he followed two blocking running backs and got just inside the endzone marker. The PAT was wide, but American Canyon led 13-6 with 1:45 left in the third.

After sacks by Jordan Hamilton and Jeffery Brown forced the Bruins three and out, American Canyon put together an impressive 52-yard, 13-play scoring drive. Eschenburg not only fueled it with a 19-yard keeper, but capped it with a 1-yard plunge with 7:08 left.

Another lost Wolves fumble with 3:51 left gave St. Pat’s one last chance to get back in the game, but the Bruins – with one pass broken up by a huge Gaviola hit – ran out of downs, and the Wolves ran out the clock.

Then it was time for players to get reacquainted who had grown up together in Vallejo.

“The majority of our players grew up with them, so we’re close,” Gaviola said. “But as you know, on the field, if you’re on the other side, it’s all competition, then it’s all love going forward. We’ve been looking forward to this game for seven years.

“I think our line played a great game, but we’re always striving for greatness. We always want to go the extra mile to try to perfect our craft. There were a few minor mistakes, but when you look back, I think we can do pretty well.”

American Canyon center Harold Malone greeted fellow junior lineman Magnus Santos of St. Pat’s after the game.

“I was able to train with him when I was little,” said Malone.

Malone said the Wolves are still learning their positions on the offensive line, but should play better next week when they visit Montgomery, the program they beat in last year’s playoff opener.

“We’re just having some technical difficulties,” Malone said. “We haven’t really adapted to each other, so we have to build that bond and brotherhood. But I feel that next game we should be better. Our linemen are very diverse – we all play different positions – and I just got moved to center. It’s hard for us, but we’ll get it done.

“The second half is kind of our thing. We just have to pull it together when we need to.”

Malone said offensive line coach Joe Beachum helped them tighten up at halftime.

“Coach Beachum is very inspiring,” he said. “He’ll tell us what’s real, but he won’t yell at us.”

Wolves head coach John Montante was most impressed with senior Noel Ramos on the offensive line.

“Noel had a couple of pancake blocks on the line and I thought Jordan Hamilton did a good job, and he rarely came off the field,” he said.

Montante is sure to raise his voice this week if the Wolves don’t prepare well for Montgomery.

“We’ve got to play a lot cleaner if we’re going to do anything next week, because I’m pretty sure they haven’t forgotten about that playoff loss,” he said. “Their coaching staff does a great job. We’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game and play hard and physical, do our job and play a lot cleaner.”

American Canyon JV 54, St. Patrick-St. Vincent 6

After routing Deer Valley 38-6 in Antioch the week before, the Wolves rolled in their home opener to improve to 2-0.

Roman Webb threw four touchdown passes, two to Croix Stewart and two to Sean Yumang, while Kapono Liu rushed for two scores.

Antonio Blanco-Naranjo and Mario Juarezo each added one touchdown, and the Wolves tacked on three two-point conversions.

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.