Casa Grande High School's Gauchos get a chance to find out what life in the North Bay League is really all about when they take on Rancho Cotate's tenacious Cougars to highlight this weekend's high school football schedule.
While the Gauchos square off with the Cougars in a match of NBL unbeatens, Petaluma goes to Santa Rosa for a historic first meeting with Elsie Allen's Lobos and both St. Vincent and Tomales try to avoid title-killing upsets in the new North Central League II/Bay Football League.
St. Vincent's Mustangs will celebrate homecoming against Emery, while Tomales is home to the Stellar Prep Thunder.
All games except for St. Vincent's traditional Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. kickoff) contest are Friday night, with junior varsity games at 5 p.m., followed by varsity contests at 7:30 p.m.
Offense vs. defense
The Casa Grande-Rancho Cotate game shapes up as a classic match between Casa's high-powered offense against Rancho's granite-solid defense.
Both teams have perfect 3-0 NBL records going into the game. Rancho Cotate is also perfect overall, while Casa Grande has a loss to Napa marring is 5-1 record. The two meet tied with Cardinal Newman atop the NBL standings. The Cardinals are at Maria Carrillo Friday night.
Since losing to Napa, Casa Grande has blown away Montgomery, 49-19; Santa Rosa, 45-0; and Maria Carrillo, 35-10, in league play.
Meanwhile, Rancho Cotate has shut out two of its three league opponents, blanking Ukiah, 35-0, and Montomery, 34-0, in its last two games after blasting Windsor, 43-9, in its NBL opener. Toss in a 39-0 whitewashing of Petaluma in a non-league contest, and the Cougars have three shutouts on the season and have given up just 35 points all season.
If Casa Grande is going to continue its high scoring ways, it must find a way to contend with Rancho Cotate's super linebacker Fono Misi, who is one of the top defensive players in the Redwood Empire. Misi's linebacking teammate, Ty Brantley, is another potential All-Empire defensive player as is down lineman Shae Smith, a devastating pass rusher.
Still, the Cougars have yet to face a team with the all-field fire power of the Gauchos, who can strike from anywhere anytime with quarterback JaJuan Lawson, fullback Elijah Qualls, running back John Porchivina and a host of outstanding receivers.
Rancho Cotate's own offense is also potent with quarterback Michael Courchaine an accurate passer and Jalon Luque a blistering runner. Luque ran wild against Petaluma, rushing for 174 yards on just eight carries, including touchdown bursts of 59 and 57 yards.
But Casa Grande has a pretty good defense of its own. With the exception of the shutout of Santa Rosa, the Gauchos have given up more points than the Cougars, but most of the scoring against Casa has come late after it has had games well in hand.
The Gaucho defense is led by Jimmy Johnson, Jake Ielmorini and Porchivina, but the real reasons for its success are a team swarm that puts a lot of helmets around the football on every play and an aggressive approach that sends players from all different angles on a variety of stunts.
But, as usual where there is a spotlight on the stars, the game may well be decided by the obscure titans on the front line where there will be a major clash of big, strong and well-coached units from both teams on both sides of the football.