The Vintage High football team didn’t seem as rusty as much as inconsistent coming off its bye week Friday night, at first.
Once the Crushers got going offensively, they were their unpredictable selves again, pulling away from Casa Grande with two tricky touchdown passes and rolling to a 39-14 Vine Valley Athletic League-opening victory that entertained their homecoming crowd at Memorial Stadium.
Consistent as ever was the Vintage defense, which held the Gauchos’ potent offense to a net minus-1 yard in the first half, and 126 for the game – 122 through the air.
The rout appeared to be on from the outset for Vintage (4-1, 1-0 VVAL) after Reid McCaffrey returned the opening kickoff 51 yards to the Gauchos’ 45-yard line. But a lost fumble after a catch on the first play from scrimmage gave the visitors the momentum instead.
When Casa Grande quarterback Miguel Robertson was hurried by Bryer Scott and threw incomplete on the ensuing play, it was a sign of things to come. Dominic Giomi ran for a first down, but the Gauchos punted soon after.
It was fumbled by the returner, but Adam Wesner recovered it to allow the Vintage offense to get back to work. Four plays later, Mauricio Castro caught Jacob Aaron’s short pass and turned it into a 25-yard touchdown. Jeremy Bradley ran in the conversion for an 8-0 lead.
After a three-and-out, a sack and loss on a fumble forced Vintage to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Tate Salese and an 11-0 lead early in the second quarter.
As the defense continued to stop a Gauchos offense that had put up 41 points against Justin-Siena the week before, the Crushers pulled away with two trick-play touchdown passes. The first was by Bill Chaidez, who took a handoff from Aaron and found a wide-open Sam Neal for a 43-yard score. The first of Salese’s four extra points made it 18-0.
“That was an arc sweep with our tailback,” Leach explained. “It’s a read so if (Chaidez) he has a chance, he can throw it, and the guy was wide open.”
Neal said the Crushers didn’t scout Casa Grande’s 41-34 comeback win at Justin-Siena last week to prepare, as much as watch film of their 21-13 loss to Bellarmine Prep two weeks before in San Jose.
“We were more focused on our previous game and how we could correct our mistakes,” he said.
They also worked on the trick plays.
“We like to run those every now and then, just to give them a different look,” Neal said. “We spent a good week going against our scout players, making sure we had the right look.”
Casa Grande, starting at its own 3 after a penalty on the kickoff return, didn’t get far before Scott sacked Robertson again. The ball squirted backward to the 10, where Jayden Benjamin scooped it up and ran it in for a 25-0 lead.
The 5-foot-11, 155-pound Scott would finish with four sacks.
“We’re getting him acclimated and healthy,” Leach said of the senior linebacker. “He played decently well against Bellarmine but we lost, so no one knew it. But he’s fast and aggressive and he plays with heart and will power. He’s undersized, but he’ll go in there and make plays. He’s really fast coming off the edge.”
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Senior captain Harrison Barrett, one of the team’s tutors, was impressed with Scott.
“Bryer Scott is a hard worker, I’ll tell you that, and he’s worked his way up,” said the senior cornerback. “He’s doing really well in school also; he just maintained his first 4.0 GPA.”
Another Scott sack and personal foul on the Gauchos forced them to punt from their 5. On the next play, Vintage tried a flea-flicker that started with Aaron handing off to Castro. He pitched it back to Aaron, who found Cutler Low wide open for a 30-yard touchdown pass with a minute left for a 32-0 halftime lead.
“We were a little rusty in the first half with a couple of fumbles, and we didn’t move the ball during the first drives like we wanted to,” Leach said. “But we ended up putting it on them in the second quarter.”
Casa Grande scored on a 30-yard pass to its own No. 8, Dominic McHale, to open the second half. But Robertson couldn’t get off the conversion pass, keeping it 32-6.
Vintage kept the play from turning the momentum by scoring just six plays later. Aaron appeared to score on a 35-yard run, but it was called back for holding. However, Bryce Eade’s 13-yard gain set up Castro’s 25-yard scoring scamper for a 39-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
After another Scott sack forced a punt near the end of the quarter, the Gauchos iced the scoring on Giomi’s 25-yard touchdown catch and Rashad Nixon’s conversion grab with 5:41 left in the game.
Barrett, who along with volleyball captain Maddie Klungel were crowned homecoming king and queen at halftime, said it took him a few plays to focus amid the excitement of the evening and having not played in two weeks.
“We definitely didn’t underestimate them, especially coming off a loss, and they honestly put up a good fight,” he said, wearing a royal robe after the game. “The first quarter made us feel a little bit skeptical, but once we got into our groove we started to feel like a team again.”
Penalties were the only thing slowing the Crushers, seven for 70 yards.
“I’m more worried about the first-half penalties,” Leach said. “When the game got lopsided, there was a penalty on every run for 10-plus yards. It’s just something we’ve got to clean up. But the defense controlled the game. We didn’t talk much about their pass game. We came in focusing on their run game because if we stop the run, it puts us in position to run the right blitz schemes and the right coverages.”
The Vintage offensive line opened big holes, too.
“We’re taught to fight every single down no matter who you go against,” said junior center and captain Jack Odell. “However big, small, fast or strong they are, you’ve just got to be able to have the will to get in there and want it more than whoever’s in front of you.
“At practice, we go against a great scout defense. Matthew Hanes gives us great looks on the defensive line and linebackers Noah Gulbransen and Ernie Avina grind and make us work as hard as we possibly can because we need to get the job done. Everything happens in the trenches and I thought we played pretty good tonight. We just have to move week by week and keep rolling.”
Vintage JV 49, Casa Grande 20
The Crushers (4-1 overall) won their VVAL opener, rushing for 390 yards on 33 carries as a team. Mo Schaumkel, Justin Ray, Ron Veraflor and Diego Davis scored touchdowns, Jaycob Gualberto had a fumble recovery, and Nate Materne, Brandon Cruz and Bryce Powers each had an interception.