After a wildly intermittent pageant of flash weather had tapped its drumbeat onto a maddening Thursday afternoon – stopping and starting, and again, only to pause and repeat with a startling patter – good fortune finally arrived in town by 7 p.m. The much-anticipated ruining rains had come to their sporting senses at the right juncture.
Or had they?
Storming to an insurmountable 38-0 lead at the half, Vela completely swamped North at Richard R. Flores Stadium, 52-14. The SaberCats washed away a Game of the Week vibe with a masterful showing in all phases, their creativity on offense juxtaposed nicely with simplicity and ferocity on defense, buttressed by a now almost commonplace brilliance on special teams.
Other than that, it was competitive.
If they played this one 20 times, such a one-sided result would be expected maybe once or twice. This was just a case of one side being explicitly ready to rumble, the other not.
In a two-minute span of the first period, Vela reprised a similar demolition visited upon EHS last year by deciding the game with a torrent of decisive snaps, and it left the large crowd rather happily bored or dismayed, depending on stadium geography.
After battering ram Sam Valenzuela crashed into the end zone for a 7-0 lead at 5:26, North returned the kickoff back to midfield, only to see Nick Enriquez of the SaberCats strip and run 50 yards the other way with the ball, and at 5:18, it was 14-0. A stunning reversal.
North was to gain just 27 yards in the first half, taking 16 minutes to achieve its first first down. Meanwhile Brandon Guzman was running 52 yards with a flat pass to make it 21-0 at 3:47.
The Cougars had actually begun the night in style with a forced fumble from Michael Renteria, a recovery and return by super-improved Brody Hill to the Vela 26. But they failed to take advantage of the early break, throwing an interception to Enriquez. Time and again, the mantra: the underdog has to cash in on such opportunities, or else.
Guzman’s touchdown, which was followed down the path by an exquisitely executed 18-yard wheel route score from Nate Garcia to Valenzuela, illustrates the prowess of the Vela offense. Coach John Campbell, 4-0 in his debut season at the helm, explained afterward.
“We really do see our short passing game as an extension of the run game,” said the intense, driven new face in town. And his quarterback, who was 16 of 23 for 292 yards and three scores, concurred.
“It sets up other stuff, we just throw short ones and it opens up some other things we want to do downfield,” said Garcia, who added a 39-yard six on a keeper at 0:24 of the half for the 38-0 edge.
Those screens out wide did indeed perforate a struggling North defense, which led to a 48-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to the excellent Ozzie Garcia in the second half.
“I just make sure to plant my feet, and get it out there quick,” said N. Garcia about the team propensity in the West Coast Offense. “I know that my guys are going to make plays when I can get them the ball in time, on the money.”
Thus what was supposed to be a tense and tough muster turned into a consistent barrage of winning plays from the SaberCats. That the Coogs got on the board with two scores after the break was partly due to a dash of promise from junior Cristian Flores – he broke up the middle for a 53-yard success in the third – was surprising given the Vela dominance on D.
That SaberCat unit is vastly improved from a year ago, and held North to 167 total yards Thursday, including a measly 19 passing steps. The scuttlebutt coming in had been all about the Cougar transition from Frankie Zuniga to Izaiah Rangel at QB. But rather than play the guessing game and try to take this or that away, Campbell and staff decided to just trust their athletes. Not overthinking it, a tack that tracked well.
“Right, we wanted to just stay basic and be ready to take what they had, what they were doing, and work against it,” said the coach. “Keeping the gameplan simple seemed correct, because really we did not know what they were going to try and do.”
Outside of Flores’ burst and a later 30-yard TD run from Bryan Garcia, North did not do much, as quick firing rush end/tackle Tim Ellington and savage mauler Sergio Carrizales did the job up front.
Linebacker Luis Gutierrez, the thickly packed tackling machine, made nine stops, and Enriquez was back to being not the Other Enriquez, collecting 10 hits, the pick, and the fumble return for six. His brother Daniel turned in an INT as well, as the Coogs poured a stream of turnovers (four in the first half) into the hands of the SaberCats. He also had a 70-yard punt return TD called back by penalty, one of the few miscues of that nature the Sabes committed Thursday. More disciplined, less prone to the key flag at the improper time: that is Vela 2017.
In all, it was total decimation, an anticlimax after the first few shocking minutes, leaving Vela primed to make a run at another title and making the Coogs – now 0-1, 1-3 – an angry bunch bent on redemption this week against a P-SJ-A Southwest bunch that could be in real trouble.
So the rains abated, and the night was clear, as clear and unequivocal as the conquest of one rival by the other.