The Setting: The Dons, ranked number 7 in the NCS Division III football bracket, hosted the number 10 Sonoma Valley Dragons under a full mooned, clear-skied Saturday evening. This was the first round playoff match of the NCS Post-season series.
1st Quarter: The Dons began the game by kicking off to the Dragons. Senior kicker Chad Johnson put his foot to the ball and blasted it into the endzone for a no-return touchback. On the first play from scrimmage the Dragons decided to run to the left. Senior safety Robbie Stern, while making the tackle, ripped out the ball causing a fumble, but the Dragons recovered it resulting in a gain of 11 yards and a first down. A bruising tackle by junior noseguard Tom Hofmeister on the next play, and a chase-out-of-bounds by sophomore linebacker Tom Henderson on second down brought a 3rd and 6 from the 35. Sonoma Valley took too much time to get their play off and was penalized 5 yards to make it 3rd and 11. They attempted a swing pass to the left but junior linebacker Jared Finney read it correctly and hit the receiver as he caught the ball; a 1-yard loss and time to punt. The punt flew and was taken by junior punt returner Sam deRoque at the Dons’ 41. He started up the middle of the field, followed his blocks, cut to the right side and blazed down the sideline into the endzone. It was happy-time for deRoque and the home crowd until everyone realized a yellow penalty flag had been thrown back up field. A block in the back against Acalanes was the call and the Dons began their drive from the Dragons 37.
Senior running back Pete Mitchell started things out for the Dons with a hard-driving 13-yard run and that was followed by a nifty short pass play from junior quarterback Casey Harrington to senior wide receiver Brett Merrill. On 3rd and 3 from the Dragons’ 21 yard line the big offensive line of senior right tackle Alex Harper, sophomore right guard Grant Young, senior center Drew Rule, junior left guard Cole Ashburn, and junior left tackle Brady Aiello began what was to be a recurring theme: big holes and plenty of pass protection. The handoff went to Mitchell — he saw daylight and charged on through for a first down. The Dons would get to a 3rd and 5 from the 8 and an offsides call further helped their quest for an initial TD. Mitchell again got the call, followed the left-side blocking and got in for the score. Johnson booted the ball through the uprights to make it 7-0 Dons.
Johnson then kicked off to the Dragons, a short kick to the 27, the ball bounced and both Finney and deRoque dove on top of it. Finney came up clutching the ball and it was go-time for the Dons with a 1st and 10 at the Dragons’ 27. Senior wide receiver Andrew Bosshart lines up wide left, Merrill wide right. Stern in the right slot. Senior receiver John Lauth goes into motion from left to right, loading up the right side. Rule snaps the ball and it’s looking like a pass to either Lauth or Stern. But bolting straight for the right corner of the end zone was Merrill. He was wide open and Harrington didn’t miss him. The pass was an arcing thing of beauty, suspended long enough for everyone in the stands to see it, judge its landing point, look there to see Merrill on the run and watch with anticipation as the two came together. The ball landed perfectly in the black-gloved hands of Merrill for an Acalanes touchdown. The sure-footed Johnson converted the extra point and the Dons led 14-0.
The Dragons began their following drive at their own 23. They called a run up the middle but junior defensive end Chris Brock was there to make the tackle for a 1-yard gain. A couple plays later it’s 1st and 10 from the 35 and a strange but successful play is run by the Dragons. Shotgun formation, single running back to the right. The ball is snapped and instead of handing off directly to the running back, both the quarterback and running back are somehow both hanging on to the ball. They take a couple steps forward into the pile and the QB emerges with the ball running to the left side. He gets all the way to the Dons’ 37 where Stern shoves him out of bounds. The Dons Defensive front three of junior defensive end Michael Fink, Hofmeister, and senior defensive end Kyle Kinnear were tough on the Dragons and had them stopped at the 8 yard line. First play was a no-gainer. Second play was a run for a yard. On 3rd and goal from the 7 it was a QB keeper but blitzing senior linebacker Tommy Kresnak blasted through the middle and drilled the QB for a 1-yard loss. The Dragons successfully kicked a field goal bringing the score to 14-3.
Sonoma Valley kicked off and the Dons began their drive from the 28. Steady play and an 11-yard catch by Bosshart brought it to 1st and 10 from the 50, and the end of the 1st quarter.
2nd Quarter: More solid play from the offense, featuring Stern with a 5-yard reception, the steady running of Mitchell, and the dependable blocking of the front line. When it got to 3rd and goal from the 8 the Dons crowd was hoping for a TD. The players lined up with Bosshart wide left, Stern wide right, Mitchell straight back and Harrington under center. The ball was on the right hash. Harrington began his count and Rule snapped the ball. Harrington drops back and sees Bosshart streaking to the middle. He fires a dart to Bosshart who brings it in just over the goal line for another Dons TD. Again, Johnson puts the extra point through and the Dons are really in business with a 21-3 lead.
But the Dragons still had plenty of fire in them and on their next drive they showed it. The Sonoma Valley running back in particular was a beast, and it took excellent tackling by linebackers Kresnak, Finney, Tom Henderson, and senior Ben Kim to keep him under control. But the Dragons persisted and wound up scoring making it 21-10.
After the kickoff, Acalanes started their drive at the 29. Mitchell ran it to the left for a gain of 6 but there was a downpour of penalty flags on the play. A facemask penalty was called against the Dragons and the 15-yard penalty brought the ball to the Dons’ 44 yard line. In a few plays it was 1st and 10 at the Sonoma Valley 47 where a nice pass from Harrington finds the sticky hands of Merrill for a 6-yard gain and a fresh set of downs. It’s 1st and 10 from the 41. The huddle breaks and the Dons line up with Bosshart wide left, junior tight end Christo Collett in the left slot, Stern in the right slot and Merrill wide right. Harrington in the shotgun with Mitchell on his left. Rule snaps it and Harrington is patient. The O-line gives him all the time he needs. And all the time Merrill needs to streak down the right side. He gets a step on his defender and Harrington launches another bomb, seemingly airborne for minutes, and hits Merrill at the 7 yard line. Merrill never breaks stride and runs into the end zone for an Acalanes touchdown. Johnson converts, and the Dons lead 28-10.
Acalanes is fired up at this point and on the Dragons’ first play after the kickoff the defense shuts down a pass attempt. On the second play the Dragons try a shovel pass to the running back on the left but waiting there is Kim who locks up the back for a loss. On third down the Dragons’ quarterback looks downfield, throws a 30-yard pass and a diving catch is made… by Andrew Bosshart for an interception. He laid out, fully extended, and made an outstanding fingertip catch.
The Dons now have the ball with a first and 10 at the 50. Harrington in the shotgun. Three wideouts and Stern in the slot. Rule snaps it, Harrington has plenty of time to checkdown his receivers. And in what has become a recurring theme, there is Merrill again with a step on his defender. Harrington takes a skip and a stride and gives the ball a mighty heave – the ball leaves his hand on the Dons’ 41 yard line and there it goes. Spinning, pointing upward then upon reaching the apex of its arc gently begins pointing downward on its descent, traveling to its destination at the 9 yard line, again, into the black-gloved hands of the striding Brett Merrill. 50 yards through the air the ball flew, and Merrill high-stepping, carried it the rest of the way into the end zone. Again Johnson on the PAT; now the score stood at 35-10 with a minute and a half to play in the 2nd quarter.
Johnson kicks off and places it short, to the up-men. The Dragons begin their drive thinking of scoring in that final one and a half minutes. They complete an 8-yard pass. They run for a first down. They run again for a 7 yard gain. It’s second down and 3 from the 39 with 12 seconds left. They are on a roll. The QB is in the shot gun, calls out the snap count, and everyone goes. He takes a 3-step drop… a 5-step drop… checking, looking; lets the ball fly. And there again is Merrill – he jumps the receiver’s route and picks off the pass at the 10 yard line, returning it upfield until he runs out of bounds at the 40 as time expires in the half.
3rd Quarter: The Dragons kick off to the Dons to start the second half. The first two downs see Pete Mitchell running plays – one of them for 11 yards. And now with the ball on their own 44 the Dons line up again. Harrington under center. Tom Henderson, behind Harrington, is in at fullback to lead the train wreck. Behind him is Finney at running back. The play is a handoff to Finney; a run off left tackle. Everyone is blocking and Finney is pinballing hard and making his way forward through the melee. He somehow springs free and accelerates up the left sideline. There are two possible defenders with an angle on him, but when they meet, Finney is at top speed and does not bother with a straight arm. He does not bother with a juke, a feint, or some kind of hokey fake. He just mows the first guy down and runs over him. The other defender is now chasing Finney but there is no possible way he will be denied that touchdown. From the 40 yard line on, the defender is trying to catch up but remains a step behind him. He crosses the goal line and several teammates run down to congratulate him on a truly impressive effort. Johnson is good on the PAT bringing the score to 42-10.
The Dragons returned the kick and began their drive. They did well, and got all the way down to a 1st and 10 from the Dons’ 15. They attempted a pass, completed it at the 10, and the receiver turned to run to the goal line. But again, there was Brett Merrill. He hit the receiver hard, causing a fumble. Junior defensive back Jack Hood was Johnny-on-the-spot and dove on the ball to recover it for the Dons. Acalanes got it to a 3rd down and 4 from their own 30. Harrington fakes a handoff to Finney and runs right, then upfield for a quick 30 yard gain. 1st and 10 now from the Dragons’ 40 yard line. They line up and it looks familiar with Henderson in at fullback and Finney behind him. Sure enough, it’s the same play for Finney that he scored on the last time. And just like last time it featured him agilely pounding his way through the quagmire of bodies to emerge in stride up the left side. And just like last time it was him again streaking past defenders on his way to the endzone for another Dons’ TD. Another Chad Johnson PAT makes it 49-10.
After the kickoff the Dragons begin their drive, this time from their own 8 yard line. On the first play it’s a run, and senior nose tackle Colin Watson got through the line and wrapped up the running back for a tidy 1-yard loss.
4th Quarter: The Dragons will eventually punt and the Dons begin at their own 25. Sophomore Leo Barakos is in at running back and pounds out two runs of three yards each. Acalanes does not get the first down and punts and the Dragons are back with the ball with a 1st and 10 at the 50. Senior Brian Lillienstein blitzes, is not picked up and he makes a superb tackle for no gain. The Dragons keep up the fight and make it to a 1st and goal from the 8. They attempt a pass, but the ever-alert junior safety John O’Malley jumps the route and snags the interception at the 1 yard line. He sprints it out to the 22 before a shoe-string tackle trips him up and prevents another Dons touchdown.
The Dons continued to chew up time in the quarter with solid running by Barakos and good game management by sophomore quarterback Jake Berry. They would eventually turn the ball over on downs at the Dragons’ 31 yard line, and the Dragons would give every effort to score again. They never would though and the Dons successfully completed this first game of the NCS Playoff Series.
The next game will be against the number 2 seed Campolindo at Campolindo, Friday at 7:00 pm.
Final Score Acalanes Dons 49, Sonoma Valley Dragons 10