|Cougars have no answers for Lawson, Gauchos
Casa Grande pulls away in second half for 42-13 NBL win
PETALUMA - A couple of rather odd things happened during Friday night's North Bay League football game between Rancho Cotate and host Casa Grande. Two streakers sprinted across the field in the first half. And Casa Grande was penalized 15 yards at the start of the third quarter because its halftime homecoming ceremony ran too long and its marching band was still on the field as the referees and the Cougars were ready for the second half kickoff.
Other than those two incidents, the game went as many expected, as the unbeaten Gauchos dominated the second half en route to a routine 42-13 victory the mistake-prone Cougars. Rancho Cotate dropped its second consecutive game to fall to 2-2 in the NBL and 4-3 overall. The Gauchos improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the NBL. Casa Grande also strengthened its positioning in the Northern California Div. II bowl standings. The Gauchos currently rank No. 3 behind Clayton Valley of Concord and Inderkum of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
"It got out of hand," Rancho Cotate head coach Ed Conroy said. "I really felt comfortable in the first half. They made two big plays to score touchdowns. Again, we couldn't get offensive consistency. We're just not good enough on offense. I thought our defense played pretty dang well but we kept putting ourselves in holes."
The major difference between these two teams is the Gauchos have JuJuan Lawson at quarterback and the Cougars do not. Lawson, the dominant player in the NBL, torched the Cougars for three touchdown passes, and he ran 80 yards for a touchdown that put the Gauchos up for good late in the second quarter.
Lawson completed 11 of 18 passes for 240 yards. More importantly, he led an offense that did not turn the ball over. The Cougars, meanwhile, turned it over five times, including four via interceptions.
The Gauchos created the first break of the game when John Porchovino picked off Gunner Mefferd's first pass of the game at the Rancho Cotate 26. Casa Grande took advantage of the miscue three plays later when JuJuan Lawson hit Daniel Greisen with a perfectly executed screen pass for a 39-yard touchdown. Casa Grande missed the extra-point attempt.
The Cougars response on their ensuing possession was an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Mefferd to Joey Trano. Kevin Nguyen's kick gave the Cougars a 7-6 lead.
Lawson, after scrambling around his backfield on a broken play, found a wide-open Zakk Molina behind the Cougars' secondary for a 46-yard touchdown pass. The Gauchos failed on their attempt for two points, leaving the score at 12-7 with 7:21 left in the second quarter.
Rancho Cotate regained the lead when Michael Ross rambled down the left sideline for an 81-yard touchdown run with 4:19 remaining in the half. The Cougars' missed extra-point attempt kept their lead at 13-12.
It didn't take long, one play in fact, for Casa Grande to climb back on top when Lawson burst up the middle for an 80-yard run on the first play of the ensuing possession. Again, the Gauchos attempted a two-point attempt but failed.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Matt Abramo booted a 44-yard field goal to extend the Gauchos' lead to 21-13.
The Gauchos put the game away with 6 minutes remaining when Lawson barely avoided a sack by Ross, scramble to his left and lofted a 35-yard touchdown to Kyle Chase. The point-after kick upped the Gauchos' lead to 28-13.
On Rancho Cotate's next possession, Brad Freitas stepped in front of a Mefferd pass and returned the interception 40 yards for a touchdown with 5:10 remaining in the game for a 35-13 lead.