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Heat, smoke, Panthers can’t slow Trojans

SUMNER FOWLER/FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER Petaluma quarterback Justin Wolbert reaches across the goal line for a touchdown in the Trojans' 49-12 win over Santa Rosa.

GEORGE HAIRE,

Petaluma High’s varsity football team entertained a late-arriving football crowd by pounding Santa Rosa, 49-12, at Casa Grande on Friday. The Trojans got off to a comfortable halftime lead, but it was their much-improved defense that turned out to be the story.

Petaluma (2-0) stymied the Panther offense by holding the visitors’ running game to a mere 13 yards and one first down by intermission. The only score for Santa Rosa in the early going was a fumble recovery picked up by Panther lineman Joseph Liberato, who scrambled 63 yards for a touchdown that opened play in the second quarter. Otherwise it was all Trojans in one of the longest-running rivalries in the Redwood Empire.

With temperatures reaching a scorching 108 degrees earlier in the day, the game was pushed back to 8 p.m. to allow for the Casa Grande synthetic turf to cool down.

“It was an administrative decision for the safety of the players,” explained Trojan coach Rick Krist. “We canceled the junior varsity game which would normally have been played. I will try to schedule another game for our kids if we can find somebody willing to play later in the season.”

Fans began filing into the Gaucho stadium with only minutes before game time, but it took the Trojans a couple of plays to set the tempo. Credit the Petaluma kick return team paced by swift running back Garrett Freitas, who provided the Trojans with outstanding field position with consecutive long kickoff and punt returns.

The Trojans broke to a 28-6 halftime advantage on three rushing touchdowns and a 78-yard swing pass from Justin Wolbert to Isaiah Blomgren. Blomgren did most of the work along the Petaluma sideline with some nifty footwork after he got past the first tackler.

Earlier runs by Wolbert, Freitas and a 62-yard gallop by Justin Turner gave the Trojans a margin that allowed for many reserves to get in some quality time in the second half.

Overall, Wolbert threw for 162 yards, including TD passes to Blomgren, Jacob Rollstin and Nick Ayers.

Petaluma built its advantage to 42-12 with Wolbert still at the helm until he gave way to junior Cole Powers in the fourth period.

Not to be outdone, Powers engineered a scoring drive of his own when the Trojans moved the ball 46 yards in seven plays. Riley Whisman took a pitch from Powers and galloped 18 yards for the final touchdown of the game.

Things didn’t go well for the undermanned Panthers, who came into the contest after losing to Berkeley, 20-6, in their opener. A live ball was recovered by the Petaluma kickoff team with Panthers hovering around to add to their frustration.

“Our defense was in the hole all night,” said first-year Panther coach Russell Ponce.

It was a complete defensive team effort by the Trojans, who tightened things up during practice. Many Petaluma players swarmed Santa Rosa quarterback Brandon Souza, who was under siege most of the night. Midway through the second half, the Panthers were worn down. Souza was limited to 21 passing yards.

Trojan fans could not escape the consistent harassment applied by big Luke Haggard, who reversed his field in the second half to chase down a Santa Rosa running back in the red zone in addition to making several stops. Haggard finished with seven tackles, including a sack.

Junior outside linebacker Jacob Havard had five tackles in the game, including one sack for a loss.

Blomgren picked off a Souza pass in the first quarter to give the Trojans good field position, and they turned it into the first touchdown by Wolbert. The quarterback reversed his field to dive in on a 4-yard running play.