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Gauchos have momentum

The momentum that has been building all season swept Casa Grande High School’s football Gauchos to their biggest victory of the year last Friday night, an impressive 46-28 win over Montgomery in the first round of the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs.

The triumph moves the Gauchos into a quarterfinal game this Friday against Granada in Livermore. Granada blanked Redwood, 42-0, in its first-round game.

Friday night’s game against North Bay League rival Montgomery was Casa’s best all-around game of the season and best of the four straight it has now won to reach the playoff second round.

“A lot of change has gone on for Casa Grande football this year, but the players have handled it well,” said Casa Grande coach Denis Brunk. “They bought into the process.”

Run-heavy most of the season, the Gauchos showed their most balanced offense of the year against Montgomery. While they continued to run the ball well, even without Jack Leonetti, out with a shoulder injury, they also showed an effective passing attack.

Undaunted by Montgomery’s packed front-line defense, senior Kenneth Fitzgerald ran over, around and sometimes away from Viking would-be tacklers for 167 yards and three touchdowns, breaking one scoring run for 66 yards.

Brandon Cota and Zian Kavach also gave the Gauchos valuable run yardage as replacements for Leonetti.

Brunk said he isn’t sure if Leonetti will be able to play this week. “He wants to play,” the coach said, “but his health comes first.”

While running effectively, Casa, for the first time all season, displayed an impressive aerial attack, with junior quarterback Jadon Bosarge pinpointing 10 connections in 16 attempts for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

As a team, Casa had 373 total yards.

Neither the infantry assault nor the aerial bombardment would have been possible without the grunt work of the muscle upfront. Braeden Chadwick, Daniel Chavez, Justin Naugle, Mathew Murphy, Matthew Hart and others cracked big holes for the runners and gave Bosarge time to find receivers all night.

As dominating as the Gaucho front proved to be, it was Montgomery that jumped out to a quick lead, with swift back Gavin Lemos and rifle-armed quarterback Joey Thresh threatening to chase the Gauchos right off their own field in the first quarter.

Midway through that opening round, Lemos ripped off runs of 21 and 18 yards, and then grabbed a 30-yard Thresh pass for the game’s first touchdown.

Before the period ended, Thresh hooked up with Auston Rapolla for a 12-yard score and a 14-0 Viking lead.

It wasn’t until the second quarter that a short Montgomery punt put Casa Grande into position for its first touchdown, a 5-yard effort by Fitzgerald. The big (235 pounds) senior went considerably farther the next time he touched the football, finding an overdrive gear to go 66 yards for a touchdown, that, coupled with a 2-point conversion run, tied the game at 14-14.

Although both teams scored again before halftime, the game’s pivotal play came on a pass interception by Casa’s Isaiah Cappelen about two minutes before the break, not becaue of the theft, but because Thresh limped off the field at the end of the play, his game and season finished.

In less than a half, he hit 15 of 27 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran twice for gains of 20 and 8 yards.

Given Casa Grande’s dominance up front, Casa probably would have still earned advancement, but there is little doubt that Thresh’s loss severely hampered the Viking efforts over the game’s second half.

After the interception, the Gauchos started at their 8-yard line and their offensive line began to exert its will on the Vikings, pushing its team 92 yards.

Big plays in the march were a 34-yard pass connection from Bosarge to Josh Grayson and a critical penalty because of a helmet-to-helmet hit on the quarterback.

Bosarge connected with Cappelen for the touchdown from 13 yards out. The conversion run made it a 22-14 game, enough to keep Casa in front when Lemos shocked the Gauchos by racing 75 yards to the house with the ensuing kickoff. Rather than try for a 2-point tying conversion, Montgomery settled for a kicked 1-point PAT, leaving it trailing, 22-21 at the much-needed halftime intermission.

The Gauchos asserted ownership of the Big House in the second half.

Casa Grande drove 64 yards in three quick minutes after taking the second-half kickoff, with Fitzgerald capping the drive with a dazzling 26-yard run that featured a hurdle over a fallen Viking defender as he approached the end zone.

With a tiring defense and a halfback/turned quarterback, the Vikings couldn’t keep pace as the Gauchos put the game out of reach with 24 unanswered points that included a 30-yard field goal by Jacob Ekwall, a 45-yard sprint by Cappelen and a 16-yard touchdown hit from Bosarge to Cota.

The Vikings, to their credit, never stopped trying, and scored again in the final minute on a 2-yard pass from sophomore substitute quarterback Cole Halin to Repolla.

The last-gasp Montgomery touchdown did little to diminish an outstanding Gaucho defensive effort, particularly in the second half.

The stop effort was led by senior linebacker Adam Lopez, who was all over the field, participating in 11 tackles, three solo.

The Gauchos’ improving secondary played especially well when faced by Thresh and the free-throwing Vikings, with Cappelen, Josh Grayson and Jance Offerman particularly notable.

Cole Shimmek helped the Casa cause by recovering two fumbles.