Let’s face it, the fires raging in Northern California are no joke and neither is the smoke that has covered the state and caused so much bad air for all of us over the past couple of years. But like so many challenges that we’ve all faced recently, this too can be an obstacle that brings us together and make us stronger as a community. So, in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, permit us this metaphor…
There was smoke on Saturday, smoke in the skies, and smoke in the Acalanes parking lot as players, coaches, and support staff had to quickly assemble like a five-alarm fire in order to get to Sierra High School in time for the varsity game. Despite the short notice, the whole team made it in plenty of time thanks to our amazing coaching and support staff as well as our fast-moving Varsity parent drivers.
Once the players arrived in Manteca and the whistle blew, the fire was on the field as the Dons started white-hot and never cooled down. QB Luke Souza quickly sparked the offense by hitting WR Will Berrien down the seam for a 25-yard gain. After a 6-yard plunge up the middle by RB Evan Malmquist, Souza sprinted left, and pitched back to WR Dante Montgomery on a reverse that he took 40-yards to the house following perfect blocking by the line and WRs with a TD clinching block late by WR Andrew Habas. Some first game jitters resulted in a 5-yard penalty before the XP, but that didn’t phase K Zach Murdin, and he knocked it through for a 7-0 Acalanes lead.
It wasn’t only the offense that brought the heat on Saturday though when Sierra got the ball for the first time, they got smoked. DT Anthony Ortale stuffed an inside run, LB Miller Smith and the rest of the Dons’ D engulfed a Sierra sweep, and then LB Ryan Giogianni blasted the Timberwolf QB on 3rd down. With the ball back the Dons wasted little time getting in the end zone again. A short pass to Malmquist, an incompletion, then a beautiful read-option run by Souza that he pulled, turned the corner, shook off a DB, and kept going until he hit the end zone. This time the timing on the PAT is a bit off and it misses, Dons 13, Timberwolves 0. After the kickoff, the Dons held Sierra to another 3 and out, with tackles by DT Kyle White, LB Sam Hafner, and Giorgianni. A short punt from deep in Sierra territory gave Acalanes a short field, and on the very first play, Souza lofted a 32-yard strike to Berrien for the third Dons TD of the quarter. The Murdin XP made it Dons 20, T-Wolves 0.
After gaining a single first down on their ensuing possession, Sierra had to kick the ball back once again to the searing hot Dons offense. Sure enough, on the first play, Souza scrambled out of a blitz, with some help from Guards Tyler Murphy and Marcus Julian, and lofted a long pass down the left sideline to a wide-open Malmquist who outraced the Sierra DB to pay dirt. Still the 1st quarter and now it was Dons 27, Sierra 0.
With the 2nd quarter starting, the T-wolves began to move the ball, getting into Dons territory to the 33 before having to punt again. With the ball back in their hands, it didn’t take long for Acalanes to heat up. A beautifully blocked 36 Misdirection, Julian, RT Noah Yeager, and C Ryan Haughner blocking down and Murphy and Ortale pulling to lead, popped Malmquist for 20. A few plays later they ran the same play to the other side, 35 Misdirection, with Murphy, Ortale, and Haughner blocking down, Julian kicking out the LB, Yeager leading the way, and Malmquist burning rubber for 50 all the way to the end zone. The kick was no good and the Dons now led 33-0.
A few plays later the defense caused a fumble recovered by DL Sam Hafner and the Dons had the ball again. At this point, the offense was en Fuego. A 20-yard scamper by Malmquist, a couple of short runs by RB Ellis Burger, a tightrope sideline grab by WR Patrick Nicosia, then the score on a bubble screen to Berrien. Again, a missed PAT and it was Dons 39-0. Another 3 and out gave the ball back to Acalanes and now it was Burger’s turn to cook. On the first play from scrimmage, he bounced off two would-be tacklers, turned outside, and scorched 61 yards to the end zone. This time the PAT was good, and it was 46-0 at the end of the half.
The second half started at a slower burn for the Dons. After a first down pick-up on a Burger run, they stalled and brought in Kyle Bielawski for his first punt of the season, a cannon-blast 40 yards back into T-Wolves territory. Sierra wouldn’t have it for long however because on the first play DB Donovan Aris-Dumas picked off an errant T-Wolves pass and the Dons were back in business. It was short-lived, however, as a mix-up and fumbled pitch on an option play gave the ball right back to Sierra. Didn’t matter to the Don’s defense, as they continued to dominate and got the ball back again after a three and out. You can’t keep the white-hot Don’s O cool for long, and QB Connor McPhail was starting to heat up. A QB keeper for 10-yards. A short out to WR Jake Takeuchi for 15. Burger up the middle for 20. Burger again for 12 to get inside the red zone. And Malmquist to finish it off into the end zone. Dons 53, T-Wolves 0.
While 53-0 wasn’t good for Sierra, what made it worse is the next play, a fumbled KO return that gave the ball to Acalanes again on the Sierra 15. Less than a minute later, McPhail found Habas in the end zone and it was Acalanes 59, Sierra 0, still in the 3rd quarter. Even though the game was far from in doubt at this point, there was a bit of drama left. After a Sierra strip fumble and long return, the T-Wolves managed to get the ball all the way down to the Acalanes 5-yard line. Could the Dons keep the shut out? On first down the Dons stoned the T-Wolves with Julian, Ortale, Murphy, and LB Jack Cusumano combining for the stop. On second down, the same crew kept Sierra out again, but a bizarre defensive block below the waist flag (Coach Doug is there even such a thing?), gave the T-Wolves a first down on the one-inch line. After that, it was just too close to stop and Sierra had its first score of the day, Dons 59, T-Wolves 6, and that’s the way it ended.
Great first win for the Dons and every single player who was eligible got to contribute. It’ll be tougher next week as Rancho Cotate of Rohnert Park comes to Lafayette, fresh off a 38-35 win over fellow DAL member Las Lomas. Need a great week of practice and alot rest… GO DONS!