PETALUMA — Pedja Zivkovic had paced on the sidelines during Vintage’s previous three games, nursing a lower body injury.
The hard-hitting running back was itching to put the pads on once again and finally did just that Friday night, helping the Crushers rout Petaluma 40-7 in a Vine Valley Athletic League game at Bill Ellison Field.
“You have to come out and play these games and you have to play at a high level no matter who you are playing,” said Vintage head coach Dylan Leach.
Jacob Aaron fed the bruising back on the first three plays, enough for the 5-foot-7, 200-pound Zivkovic to find the end zone. He found a hole and carried a safety on his back across the goal line for just under two minutes into the game. The Crushers went for a two-point conversion, but the pass was broken up to keep it 6-0.
“It felt good to work on some things we haven’t had an opportunity to work on,” Leach said. “Our passing game and our empty set have been hard to practice with the schedule that we have played. So we’re excited to get out there and get in those sets and see how we managed it.”
Zivkovic, playing only in the first half, finished with a team-high 53 rushing yards on four carries as the Crushers (5-1, 2-0 VVAL) tuned up for next week’s showdown at undefeated American Canyon.
“It feels really good to be back,” he said. “I’ve been out for four weeks and just to get in there and really set the tone for my team felt amazing. I think not having me there and having them still preform very well makes me very proud of them. I feel like the American Canyon game will be very good with me back. I’m about 100% now.”
“Pedja ran really hard,” said Leach. “We were excited to have him back a full speed tonight. He’s our horse and I can’t wait to see how he runs the rest of the year.”
After the Trojans were forced to quickly punt, Mauricio Castro was the focal point of Vintage’s second drive. The senior took a sweep play to the left side for 20 yards and added his lone touchdown of the game with a 4-yard burst for the score. Castro finished with 42 yards on three touches.
The Crushers appeared to be on their way to a third score in the first quarter, but an Aaron pass was intercepted by Randall Braziel. The Crushers weren’t on defense long, however, as Trojans quarterback Jack Hartman was strip sacked and Bryer Scott jumped on the football.
Sophomore two-way player Dylan Smith collected back-to-back sacks of Hartman to stall any momentum Petaluma may have had to start the second quarter.
“We need to stay hungry most definitely. I also think that we need to not be cocky, we need to really focus,” Zivkovic said. We don’t need to take any teams lightly every team is a threat. We just need to stay hungry and if we keep this aggressiveness that we have, I think that we will go really far and do great things.”
The Crushers started to work on their passing attack in the second frame, as Aaron started to heat up. The junior signal caller found Cutler Low on a 9-yard pass and completed the drive with Reid McCaffrey on a 15-yard bullet of a pass in the back of the end zone. Tate Salese put a strong foot behind the extra point and blasted it through the uprights.
It didn’t take long for the Crushers to be in position to extend their rout. Aaron connected with Low on a 50-yard pass down the right sideline, and the senior was tackled at the 3. Aaron swung out to his left on the following play and, with no one open, decided to take it in himself for the score.
Petaluma lost an offensive lineman early in the contest to a knee injury and Hartman was under pressure all evening. The senior had one of his best runs in the second quarter, but was hurt on the play. With Braziel backing up at quarterback, Vintage’s Bill Chaidez forced and recovered a fumble. Aaron zeroed in on the next wide receiver that would fill up the stat sheet, Logan Bartlett. The senior made a diving catch on a slant route for 22 yards to put the Crushers into the Trojans’ red zone.
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Bartlett was also the target on the next play, as Aaron found the wide receiver on an 18-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. A Petaluma safety crushed Bartlett on the play, but he was able to hold on to the football to make it 34-0.
“I was just hoping that my quarterback Jacob could give me a chance and I took that chance. I felt like I completed my job,” Bartlett said. “It feels great that we can trust anybody to really get up in there and do their job.”
A running clock started a minute into the second half. With Hartman back on the field, the Trojans scored in the third quarter on his 33-yard keeper. Vintage tacked on a score in the final quarter, as Jayden Benjamin pounded it up the middle of the Petaluma defensive line and took the carry 15 yards for the score.
“It’s fun to get guys in that work their butts off at practice and believe me, I wouldn’t put guys in and reward them if they didn’t deserve it,” Leach said. “I am not one of those coaches that everyone gets to play, but everyone gets to play if they deserve it. So I think that most of our kids do that and they all get that opportunity.”
American Canyon defeated Napa 14-7 on Friday evening, setting up a showdown for the VVAL title this upcoming week.
“The vibe is definitely very serious. We need to keep our eyes focused and do our jobs at practice. We have got a great coaching staff that’s going to give us the ability to successfully do our jobs,” Bartlett said. “I think we need to focus on the little things, whether that’s steps, routes or hand position. It’s just the little things that are going to make a huge difference in this upcoming game.”
Leach said the coaches won’t need to motivate the players much.
“I don’t think we need to do anything special, the kids understand what’s at stake,” Leach said. “I think this team knows when the time comes, they’re going to come out ready to practice and play hard. I am looking forward to this week.”
It’s clear Leach and his Crushers have their eyes on another league title.
“In a short season, and especially a division that’s only taking eight playoff teams, we feel like we have to win the league in order to move on,” he noted. “I tell the kids all the time, as long as we don’t lose, we control our own destiny and we don’t have to rely on someone else. We don’t ever want to be in that position.”
Vintage JV 49, Petaluma 6
The Crushers rushed for 301 yards on 32 carries, with touchdown runs by Justin Ray, Parker Hurst, Diego Davis and Ron Veraflor.
Brandon Cruz caught a pass from Ray for another score, and Reid Woolworth return an interception to the house.
Vintage (6-1, 2-0 VVAL) recovered three fumbles and also got an interception from Tytan Bradley.