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It's a matter of focus for the Casa Grande and Petaluma High School football teams this week as they try to put aside the distractions of homecoming and concentrate on the jobs at hand.

For Casa Grande, it is a major challenge from defending North Bay League champion Rancho Cotate. For Petaluma, it is a chance for a winning streak for the first time this season against a struggling Elsie Allen team. Both games are Friday night. Also on Friday, Tomales tries to stay in the North Central II/Bay Football League title hunt as it goes to Hayward to play Stellar Prep. St. Vincent comes back from an unwanted bye week to play Saturday afternoon at McClymond's High School in Oakland against the Emery Spartans.

Ranch is healthy

Casa Grande's unbeaten (6-0, 3-0 league) Gauchos have already passed major hurdles by beating Montgomery and, last week, Maria Carrillo, but get no breathing room as they go against a 4-2 Rancho Cotate team that is hungry for league success after losing last week to Montgomery, 28-3. Earlier in the season, Casa Grande beat Montgomery, 30-12, handing the Vikings their only loss of the season.

Despite the comparative scores against Montgomery, Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog knows it will not be an easy game. "Rancho is a very good football team," he said. "They will be playing for first place and they will be healthy. They haven't had their whole football team all season, and I hear they will be healthy for us."

Herzog observed that the Cougars are one of the few teams that can match the Gauchos' strength on the front lines. "They are big and athletic. Aside from Napa, they are one of the few teams that match us on the line," he said.

The coach noted that Rancho Cotate presents problems for opposing defenses because they run both option and spread offenses. When they run the option, the challenge is to stop both muscular fullback Tanoa Peleti, speedster Malik Newton and improving sophomore quarterback Gunner Mefferd. When the Cougars spread the field, defenses have to beware Mefferd's strong arm and the speed of sophomore wide receiver Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, who was good enough to make the varsity on a championship team last season as a freshman.

The physical linemen Herzog is talking about are returning all-leaguers Austin Nava and Steven DeSouza.

Casa Grande is coming off perhaps its best all-around NBL game of the season. The Gauchos ran up 333 total yards against a very good Maria Carrillo defense. Quarterback JaJuan Lawson had what, even for him, was an exceptional game, completing 14 of 22 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged better than 13 yards a completion while earning a quarterback rating of 121. He also ran for 55 yards and two touchdowns. John Porchivina carried just 12 times but gained 111 yards.

Defensively, the Gauchos forced five Maria Carrillo fumbles, with linebacker Miles Gardea recovering three, including one take-away he returned 24 yards for a touchdown. He was credited with seven tackles.

Herzog said it didn't think homecoming would be a major distraction for the Gauchos. "We talked about it," he said. "We have one focus, and that is handling business Friday night.

Casa Grande has only one significant injury, but it is a big one — 6-foot, 3-inch Nick Pleinnikul. His absence will be felt, but Casa Grande will benefit by the return of 270-pound lineman Greg Poteracke. Jonathan Weber, a projected starting wide receiver at the start of the season, will play for the first time this year.

Read a 2014 Sonoma Magazine story on the 10-year anniversary of the killings and the life-changing effect they had on Sheriff Steve Freitas here


For past coverage of the slayings go here

Trojans go for two

Petaluma will be trying to win back-to-back games for the first time this season, when it hosts Elsie Allen's Lobos for its homecoming festivities Friday night at Steve Ellison Field. Elsie Allen is 1-5 on the season and lost to El Molino, 20-10, a team that Petaluma beat last week, 57-0.

Petaluma goes into the game with 2-3 overall and 1-2 SCL records. A win would even both.

Despite the Lobo record, Petaluma coach Rick Krist cautions that the Trojans had better come to play. "We have to compete against them just as we compete against every other team," he said.

The Trojans must especially beware quarterback Jalen Busby, a multi-talented athlete with a strong throwing arm. "He is a very good athlete," Krist said. He is fast and elusive. He could start some place on any team in the league.

Petaluma will be tasked with keeping up the momentum it built up against El Molino last week when it gained 351 yards — all by rushing.

Gabe Medina had his fourth straight 100-plus rushing game, running for 161 yards. Yusef Kawasami, in his first game of eligibility, made an immediate impact, rushing for three touchdowns and gaining 71 yards on just five carries. His presence as an inside linebacker has also allowed Petaluma to make some adjustments to strengthened its defense.

Krist acknowledged that one of the coaching staff's major challenges is to keep the players focused on football.

"Homecoming is always a distraction," he said. "We have a lot of kids involved in school activities other than football. It is nice to have them involved, but on the other hand it can be a little distracting. We've tried to change up a few things in practice to make it more fun. We want it to be a positive week.

Back in action

St. Vincent returns to action this week, after having its own homecoming disrupted by a cancelation by last week's scheduled opponent, Livermore Valley Prep. The Mustangs' next two games are both on the road, meaning they won't play their homecoming game until Nov. 2 when they host Upper Lake.

Meanwhile, they have to take care of NCL II/Bay Football League business, beginning Saturday afternoon at McClymond's High School in Oakland where they face an Emery team that is very much in the mix for both the league title and a North Coast Section playoff berth. The Spartans are 5-2 overall and 2-1 in league play. Counted among their wins was a 40-32 victory over a very good Tomales team and a 72-0 shellacking of Upper Lake last week. Their only league loss was 55-28 to Calistoga and the Spartans scored four touchdowns against the unbeaten Wildcats.

St. Vincent, despite a 28-21 loss to California School for the Deaf in its last game played Oct. 4, is still hopeful itself. The Mustangs are 3-2 overall and 1-1 in league.

The game will match two of the league's top running backs, Emery's Dante Johnson and St. Vincent's Derek Murphy. Johnson rushed for 106 yards, scored twice rushing and twice receiving, returned a punt for a touchdown and kicked two PATs in the Spartans' demolition of Upper Lake.

St. Vincent senior Murphy has gained 327 yards in the Mustangs' five games and scored five touchdowns despite opponent's stacking the box to stop him.

Speed zone

Tomales' Braves, coming off an impressive 30-20 victory over California School for the Deaf, faces a speedy Stellar Prep Thunder team in Hayward.

The Thunder, playing an ambitious pre-league schedule that included Oakland and Analy, is just 1-5 for the season and 1-2 in league, but they are very fast and very athletic. Tomales, despite a bevy of injuries, has hung tough, compiling 4-2 overall and 1-1 league records. Coach Leon Feliciano said he hopes to have everyone on the Tomales roster healthy for the game.

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