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.