Casa Grande dominated play in the early going against visiting Ukiah, but the winless Gauchos faded down the stretch, dropping a 37-21 football decision on Friday night.
Casa led by two touchdowns and rolled up 222 yards in the first two quarters with a strong running game powered by explosive Kenneth Fitzgerald (235 pounds), and it looked as if the Gauchos might register their first win of the season. Tight offensive formations and good line blocking angles paved the way for Fitzgerald, who galloped for a couple of scores, including a 61-yard breakaway in the second quarter.
With Fitzgerald, Jack Leonetti and quarterback Jaden Bosarge alternating carries, the Gauchos muscled their way to a 21-7 advantage until the Wildcats appeared to make some defensive adjustments as the game progressed.
Leonetti put the Gauchos on the board for the first time with a 9-yard run in the first quarter to even the count at 7-7.
In the second quarter, Fitzgerald went to work behind the Gaucho forward wall, and burst his way into the secondary on several occasions. Most of the aggressive play by the Gaucho offensive line came in the second quarter, and it paid dividends.
Casa ripped off a 56-yard march in the second quarter, aided by a 14-yard run by Bosarge. Fitzgerald punched the ball into the end zone from 3 yards out, and the Gauchos went up 14-7 on the second of three PAT successful boots by Brandon Cota.
After forcing a punt by the Wildcats on the next series, Casa struck suddenly when Fitzgerald burst past the secondary on a 61-yard touchdown gallop. Fitzgerald had his best rushing game of the season, which included a couple of scores called back as a result of Casa penalties.
Along the way in the first half, the Gauchos got a quarterback sack by Zian Kovach and a pass interception by Josh Garcia to set up a short field position.
Near the end of the first half, however, the Wildcats showed some signs of life on a game-changing 55-yard pass play from quarterback Nate Johnson to Blaine McDaniel to cut the margin to 21-15 at intermission. The ball was perfectly thrown over a Gaucho defender as McDaniel grabbed it going away, and the momentum of the game suddenly began to swing.
A Casa penalty on the ensuing snap gave Ukiah an opportunity to punch in 2 points from close range.
The game was also put on hold by the officials in the first half for nearly five minutes when the operator of a mechanical drone was slow in removing the device from overhead.
The second half was all Ukiah. The Wildcats (3-3) limited Casa runs to minimum yardage on the defensive end, while Johnson engineered three scoring drives to put the game out of reach. Overall, Ukiah scored four consecutive touchdowns, and Casa did not generate an answer.
Adam Lopez had a solid defensive game for the Gauchos with several stops, a quarterback pressure and a fumble recovery near the line of scrimmage. Leonetti and defensive lineman Braeden Chadwick (255 pounds) played well defensively for the Gauchos toward the end of the contest. Leonetti was the team leader in tackles with 32 heading into the contest.
The win was the second in a row for the Wildcats, who defeated Casa last season, 14-13. The teams are slated to move into different leagues in 2018.