The big football match-up between the league’s top two teams, the AV High School Panthers and the Mendocino High School Cardinals, was played in Mendocino Saturday beneath a beautiful blue sky and a warm sparkling sun with the Pacific Ocean gleaming in the background. Mendocino, coached by Theron Miller and Sam Gitchell, came back strong in the second half to win the game by two touchdowns, 52-38. Unless the sun and moon quit on us, it looks like Mendocino will be the league champs for this 2013 season.
It was a hard fought, and cleanly played football game. The Panthers won the first half. Cesar Soto, wiry and fleet, was all over the place on defense and piled up serious yardage on offense, with Erin Perez playing strong defense. Jesus “Tank” Hernandez, a squat, strong kid who runs fiercely straight at defenders, repeatedly burst through the line on offense. It always took a crew of Cardinals to bring him down. Mendocino's imaginatively colorful announcer changed Hernandez’s moniker from The Bowling Ball to Tank as the game progressed.
The Cardinals quarterback, Reed Carter, enjoyed a memorable day. He sprinted for some long touchdowns to help win the game plus he was the Homecoming King.
Two successful onside kicks by the Cardinals were part of the reason for the Panthers losing the game. In the first half, the Panthers were ahead 30 to 16 when Mendocino successfully executed an onside kick and recovered the ball. Mendocino followed that up by relentlessly moving down the sunny gridiron, it's speedy backs, particularly the Salmans brothers, Carter and Kyle Moore, managing to get consistently outside the Panther defense. With 17 seconds remaining in the first half the Cardinals scored to make the half-time score Panthers 30, Cardinals 22.
I watched the game with my friend Bruce Anderson. When the Panthers onside kicked off to begin the second half, I thought Panther Coach Dan Kuny tried to retaliate for the Cardinals onside kick by ringing one up for his team. But it backfired and the Cardinals recovered the Panther’s onside attempt. We thought maybe the Panther’s kicker had somehow kicked the tee more than the ball. In any case, it went straight into the arms of Mendocino at mid-field.
The Cardinals took the ball and rammed it all the way to the Panther 3 where the Panthers defense, lead by Guerrero, Rojas and Ferreyra, made a valiant goal-line stand and got the ball back.
Deep in their own territory, Jared Johnston took a handoff from AV’s poised freshman quarterback, Tony Pardini, and sprinted down Mendocino’s sideline for a 37-yard run, giving the Panthers some essential breathing room. The unyielding Panther defense and Johnson’s long run got AV out of serious trouble.
After a few more AV first downs, Tank Hernandez bulled his way over the goal line from three yards out — Panthers 38, Cardinals 22. For the moment it looked good for the visitors from Boonville.
Then it seemed that the Cardinals number 6, Kyle Moore, revealing a speed he'd hidden in the first half, had been shot from a cannon as he ran wide around the line and zoomed 72 yards for a touchdown. AV 38, Mendo 28.
On their next possession, the Panthers lost the ball on a dropped lateral screen pass. The Cardinals had the football again, in no time, it seemed. The recovered fumble gave the Cardinals fresh momentum as quarterback Carter faked a hand off one of his running backs, but burst through the center of the line on a surprise keeper and sprinted into the end zone.
A similar play worked for Cardinal Preston Salmans too — for another long TD sprint. The tide had turned; the Cardinals continued to score and the game was theirs to win.
On balance, the Cardinal’s team speed was the difference. They were also bigger than the Panther players overall. That speed and power advantage went to the Cardinals, who are older — mostly juniors and seniors. Considering the youth of the Panther team this year the Panthers are very good. It’s impressive that such a young team can compete effectively with a team like the Cardinals. Only three AV varsity players are juniors or seniors; the rest are freshmen or sophomores — basically JVs. Another year under those brown and gold pads and they will be a football force to be reckoned with.
Coach Kuny told me on the phone before the game that he thought Cesar Soto was the favorite to be the league MVP because he is so outstanding on both sides of the ball.
I agree with Coach Kuny. Soto covers a lot of ground on defense. He is always around the ball. But, I wouldn’t complain if Reed Carter was MVP because he is a senior.
There will be a North Coast League Division III Championship game at a site to be named later.
NOTES: Lots of children and even grandchildren of familiar football names of yesteryear were on the field Saturday: Bloyd; Pardini; Owens; Lemons; Shandel; Johnston.
The Mendocino mascot, a kid dressed as a cardinal (of the avian type) wandered around on the Boonville side of the field making comments which irritated some Boonville people. The cardinal was asked to return to his side of the field and stay there.
The football crowd on the Mendocino side was large and loud. Boonville also brought quite a few fans, including grandad Billy Owens who said he would celebrate his 84th birthday next week.
The village of Mendocino was teeming with visitors, and the beach at Little River crowded with scuba and ab divers.
Mendocino High School sold a very nice program with the $5 price of admission complete with a 1960 aerial photo of the high school on the cover.