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Into the great unknown

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This is the time in every football season when teams look forward to a new beginning as they start league play. That was never more true than for Petaluma and Casa Grande as they not only start new with league play, but with a new league.

The pre-league season has been successful for Petaluma (3-1), but not so much for Casa Grande (0-4). Those records matter little Friday night when the local teams kick off in the new Vine Valley Athletic League. Everyone in the new league — Justin-Siena, Petaluma, Vintage, Sonoma Valley, Casa Grande, American Canyon and Napa — start 0-0 in games that count.

Petaluma starts VVAL on the road, playing at American Canyon and playing at Justin-Siena the following week. Casa Grande opens at home against Justin-Siena.

Vintage favored

Leading up to Friday’s historic beginning, the VVAL has been extremely difficult to untangle.

Vintage seems to be the favorite, and the Crushers have done little to dissuade that opinion in pre-league play, despite going 2-2. Its losses were to Wood, 35-7, and Acalanes, 28-27. Since then, the Crushers have looked more like the dominant team most felt they would be, beating Lincoln, 26-20, and Bellarmine Prep, 26-14.

Vintage had one of its best seasons in two decades last year, going 7-3 and finishing second to Wood in the Monticello Empire League.

Led by senior running back Viliami Schaumkel and senior quarterback Michael Webber, the Crushers have high hopes of taking the next step up to a league championship and a North Coast Section playoff win.

In a case of the rich getting richer, the Crushers get a bye in the first week of VVAL play before opening league on Sept. 21 at home against Casa Grande.

Best VVAL teams by record in pre-league play are Justin-Siena and Petaluma, two of the smallest schools by enrollment in the new league. Both are 3-1 starting counting play.

Siena at Casa Grande

Justin-Siena lost its first game to Piedmont, 28-7. but has since rolled off wins over Healdsburg, 61-0; Armijo of Fairfield, 40-14; and Hercules, 39-8.

The Braves were 3-6 last season, but all three wins were in the Marin County Athletic League, a league that is comparable to the Sonoma County League Petaluma played in last year.

The Braves have a bevy of returning players, led by outstanding senior quarterback Barrett Donohoe.

The Braves visit Casa Grande’s Gauchos for their first VVAL game.

Casa Grande, in a script that is eerily similar to last season, has lost its first four games, falling to Windsor, 30-22; Montgomery, 35-7; San Marin, 28-14; and Maria Carrillo, 41-7.

Last year, Casa lost its first six games, but charged at the end of the season, winning four of its last five, including one in the North Coast Section playoffs, to finish 4-7.

Casa has had a difficult time getting its offense untracked but has the potential to have a lethal passing attack with either senior Jadson Bosarge or junior Miguel Robertson throwing to a bevy of outstanding receivers led by senior Dominic McHale.

The Gauchos have had problems stopping the opposition, yielding an average of 33.5 points per game.

Casa Grande coach Denis Brunk said he is counting on the character and integrity of the players to get the Gauchos on the winning track.

“We’ve had very good practices this week,” he said. “These players are very resilient. I like our odds. We match up well against Justin-Siena.”

The Casa coach also is excited about the new league.

“I like the idea we’re going against teams we’re not familiar with,” he said. “It’s all new and that is good for us.”

Petaluma at American Canyon

Petaluma has gotten off to a good start. The only blemish on the Trojans’ four-game non-league record was a 42-26 loss to Santa Rosa. Wins have come over Montgomery, 21-7; Terra Linda, 21-7; and El Molino, 56-31.

Last season, Petaluma was 8-2, with one loss coming to Analy in what stood as the Sonoma County League championship game, and the other to Acalanes in the North Coast Section playoffs.

The Trojans play a team they have never played before when they open VVAL play against American Canyon on Friday night on Wolves’ turf.

Petaluma coach Rick Krist is not letting American Canyon’s 0-4 pre-league record fool his Trojans. He pointed out, “They (the Wolves) have played a pretty incredible schedule.”

American Canyon’s losses were to Deer Valley of Antioch, 36-21; Inderkum from Sacramento, 69-0; Amador Valley from Pleasanton, 34-13; and Wood from Vacaville, 28-22.

“They are much like us,” Krist noted. “They run the football. They have a big quarterback, Vance Eschenburg; and a big fullback, Eddie Byrdsong. Between the two of them they have carried the ball 100 out of the 150 plays they have run.”

Petaluma has been able to spread the ball around more, but when yardage is needed, the Trojans run their veer option to All-League speedster Garrett Freitas, quarterback Cole Powers or alternating fullbacks Derrick Pomi and Colton Prieto behind a solid offensive line.

Krist also is excited about playing in a new league.

“I like playing different teams in different places. There is a different atmosphere that is exciting,” he explained.

Sonoma Valley begins its VVAL adventure at Napa. Sonoma goes to Memorial Stadium with an 0-4 record, while Napa has lost all four of its pre-league games.

There is a difference. Sonoma has played Cloverdale (21-0 loss), El Molino (14-7 loss), Kennedy of Richmond (6-0 loss) and El Camino of South San Francisco (24-8 win). Napa has lost to Pitman from Turlock, 55-7; East Union from Manteca, 55-12; Nevada Union from Grass Valley, 59-34; and Riordan from San Francisco, 40-31.

Napa is starting over with a new coach after going 3-6 last year in a season marked by controversy revolving around pre-season practices.

There is one other significant difference between the two teams. Sonoma Valley has a pre-season roster of 19 players. Napa’s pre-season roster lists 117 players.