The Union Democrat
Wildcats thrash Buhach Colony 42-8 for 3rd-straight win
When the final whistle blew on the Sonora High School varsity football team’s 42-8 victory Friday night over the Buhach Colony Thunder in Atwater, the Wildcats trekked to the far end zone for their usual post-game talk.
But instead of getting the congratulatory pat on the back they might have expected given the final score of the contest, Sonora players were greeted by a coaching staff that was unenthusiastic about their performance.
“We just weren’t hitting on all cylinders tonight,” Wildcats head coach Bryan Craig said. “The score looks like we were, but we really weren’t. It took us a while to get going.
“There is a certain feel to it when you walk off the field and you go, ‘That was nice.’ This one, it’s a W, and we won’t give it back, but there is a lot to work on.”
The Wildcats did seem firmly in the driver’s seat to start the game, quickly forcing a three-and-out on the Thunder’s first series.
On the first play of the ensuing Sonora drive, senior slot back Bryce Nicolson got to the outside edge with ease and walked into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown run.
Nicolson led the way for Sonora for the second-straight week, this time rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Sonora was promptly up 7-0, less than 90 seconds after kicking the ball off.
That’s where the problems started for the Wildcats.
The defense remained consistent early, but the Sonora offense showed little signs of life after their quick first strike. Quarterback Adam Curnow, whose passing dazzled opponents and spectators last week against Hilmar, looked out of sorts.
A pitch to sophomore slot back Cash Byington hit the turf, then a screen to wideout Jon Curran sailed high. The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a fourth-down run by Nicolson.
On Sonora’s next drive, Curnow was swarmed in the backfield by Thunder defenders after hesitating to pitch the ball to one of his slots. The ball popped out and Buhach Colony took over at the Wildcats’ 34-yard line.
It was a defensive play that snapped Sonora out of its funk, as Byington pulled down an interception on a deep shot from Thunder quarterback Patrick Curran
along the left sideline.
With good field position and a jolt of energy, the Wildcats were able to march down and score in four plays, led by a 26-yard Nicolson run and punctuated by a 4-yard Brandon Hensel dive to make it 14-0.
Sonora scored two more times before the end of the first half to go up 28-0, including a 35-yard outside run from Byington and a 10-yard dive from Austin Craig to finish a hurry-up drive in the half’s waning moments.
“We finally got there, at the end of the first half we started putting points on the board and the defense was playing well, but then (in) the second half we started doing it again,” Craig said.
The Wildcats got their fifth rushing touchdown of the night from their fifth individual player to start the third quarter as senior slot Declan Gardiner scampered 30 yards to put the Wildcats up 35-0.
The silver lining of an up-anddown game for Sonora was the performance of second- and thirdstring players who got a chance to show what they can do when given the opportunity.
Gardiner (six carries, 65 yards, one TD), along with fellow senior Ryan Lail (four carries, 41 yards), flashed lethal speed on pitch plays late in the game after Sonora pulled Nicolson and Byington.
After only a couple of snaps, star fullback Audie Peeples left the game with a shoulder injury, leaving things in the capable hands of Austin Craig (six carries, 50 yards, one TD) and Hensel (two carries, 19 yards, one TD).
But the best story of all was fourth stringer Nicholas Hudson, who scored the Wildcats’ sixth and final touchdown in the final minutes of the game. Hudson had 6 carries for 26 yards on the drive, including the 1-yard run at the goal line to put the Wildcats up 42-8.
For Hudson, the opportunity to prove himself meant everything.
“It felt amazing. I was really glad I got that time,” Hudson said. “I only play special teams like kickoff, punt and kick return. I have just been waiting to be able to play some defense or offense. I am glad they got me in.”
“I can’t wait to tell my aunt about it,” he beamed. “She is awesome — she has been working a lot, too, so I am trying to play some football for her.”
While there is distinct value in giving younger players developmental opportunities, those plays also energize the team, according to Craig.
“(The starters) know that those guys are the scout guys all week long and they do the dirty work all week long getting them ready for the game,” Craig said. “When they get into the game and get an opportunity to play, it really gets our other guys fired up.”
“We are pretty deep at fullback. Some of those guys would be able to start on normal Sonora High teams,” he added.
In spite of their reserves playing quite well, the inconsistent energy the team showed throughout the blowout win will not be enough when the Wildcats face a team of similar ability, said senior lineman Derrick Kroeze.
“We should have doubled the score, really,” Kroeze said. “We have high standards. We are looking to go far in state and try to win sections this year, so we have got to set our goals high.”
“We played physically the whole game, but we just need to cut the mistakes and just keep doing what we do … we are looking for another big win.”
The Wildcats (3-1) will get a chance at that big win next Friday as they take on the Livingston High Wolves (1-3) for the final leg of their three-game road trip at 7 p.m. in Livingston.