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Senior quarterback JaJuan Lawson threw for three touchdowns and broke loose for an 80-yard scoring run to lead Casa Grande High to a happy homecoming 42-13 win over Rancho Cotate Friday night.

The win was the seventh straight without a loss for the Gauchos, who are now 4-0 against North Bay League opponents. The victory also marked another hurdle cleared on what they hope will be a championship run, coming against the defending NBL champions and a Cougar team that came into the game hopeful and left with few repeat hopes after falling to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in league play.

While Lawson shouldered the offense with his propensity for making the big play, the Casa Grande defense once again contained a potentially explosive offensive opponent. Not only did the Casa defense pin the Cougars at their end of the field most of the game, the Gauchos four times stole the ball — three times on interceptions and once with a fumble recovery.

The final score masked both the intensity and the combativeness of the game as the two Redwood Empire heavyweights stood toe to toe and duked it out for three tension-filled quarters before Casa Grande took complete control in the fourth quarter. After three quarters, the Gaucho lead was a tenuous, 18-13.

Thing started brightly for the Gauchos when John Porchivina, once again a game-long standout on both sides of the scrimmage line, intercepted a Rancho Cotate pass on the third-play of the game. Two plays later, Lawson and Daniel Greisen worked a screen pass to perfection for a 39-yard touchdown. Rancho Cotate blocked Matt Abramo's PAT try, a play that, for awhile, looked significant.

But the Cougars weren't about to let a quick score determine the game. Talented sophomore quarterback Gunner Meffered tossed a swing pass to Carlos Franco, who broke it for 54 yards and three plays later, Mefferd threw over the middle to Trono for a touchdown. Kevin Nguyen booked the PAT and Rancho Cotate led, 7-6.

Lawson was at his best improvising, and he did just that midway through the second period, scrambling and finally throwing on the run to Andre Kupelian who was all alone in the end zone on a play that covered 44 yards. A two-point conversion pass attempt was incomplete, leaving Casa in front, 12-7.

The second quarter fun was just starting.

With just over four minutes to play, Rancho Cotate's diminutive, but super quick, Michael Ross squirted through a hole punched in the Casa Grande defensive front and raced 81 untouched yards for a second Cougar touchdown. The PAT kick missed, but still the Cougars led, 13-12.

Not for long.

On the first play following the Rancho Cotate kickoff, Lawson took the snap, stepped back a couple of steps and exploded, once he reached the left sideline, he was gone 80 yards for the touchdown that gave the Coguars an 18-13 halftime lead after a conversion pass had once again fallen incomplete.

Abramo, who left an earlier field goal attempt of 46 yards short, boomed a 44-yarder at the outset of the fourth quarter to up the Casa advantage, 21-13.

Then, Casa charged. Trying to pay catch-up, the Cougars continually lost the football and the Gauchos continually capitalized. First Lawson did his scramble thing again until he found Kyle Chase alone in the back of the end zone for an 84-yard score. Brad Fraites followed with a 35-yard pass interception return for a touchdown. Zakk Molina intercepted a pass to set up a 3-yard run by Jason Christianson as the Gauchos sent in the reserves.

Next up is a rapidly improving Ukiah team back on the Casa turf next Friday night.

For complete game story, see Thursday's Petaluma Argus-Courier.

Casa Grande won the junior varsity preliminary game, 27-13, to improve to 4-3 on the season.