A break or two and some offensive consistency once again eluded the Rancho Cotate High varsity football squad as visiting Healdsburg High took advantage of three big plays to thwart the Cougars, 21 -6, in preseason action on Friday.
For the second consecutive week, the Ranch played an emotionally tough football game. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive week, the Cougars’ efforts went unrewarded.
“Our defense played a great ballgame. In fact, I’d have to say that we’re ahead of last year at this point,” said Rancho coach Ed Conroy, whose club hopes to turn its luck around this Friday against visiting Petaluma High. “But our offense just isn’t moving the ball. We’re not getting the kind of consistency we need offensively to win ballgames,”
The Cougars battled Healdsburg to a scoreless draw in the first period. The greyhounds threatened to score midway through the quarter then quarterback Rich Thomas found All-Empire wide receiver Jeff Burchett on a fly pattern inside the Rancho 5-yard line. Defensive back Robert Buckley, however, tattooed Burchett hard on the play, forced the fumble and recovered the pigskin to give RCHS new life.
“Buckley played a great game,” said Conroy, who noted that the junior drew the assignment of shadowing Berchett all evening.
The Ranch opened the second quarter by driving into Healdsburg territory before penalties forced them to punt-then disaster struck, and quick, and then again.
On Healdsburg’s next play from scrimmage, Thomas hit wide receiver Gabe Aguilar in the flat, who lateralled the ball to running back Ron Black (remember the old hitch and-pitch play?), who sprinted 41 yards untouched into the end zone.
“We got burned by a trick play, what can you say?” asked an exasperated Conroy.
The Cougars’ next possession lasted all of three plays before punter Havoli Unga was brought on. Unga’s punt was of the short and returnable kind, which Burchett fielded on the dead run and sprinted 34 yards untouched into the end zone as the Ranch found itself down 14-0 just like that.
“We still need to work on our punt coverage,” conceded Conroy. “But, you have to give Burchett credit because he made a gutsy play to even field the ball.”
Undaunted, the Ranch took the second half kickoff and managed a trio of first downs before the drive stalled and they had to punt. The Cougar defense then stuffed Healdsburg’s offense as the Ranch appeared poised to gain momentum of the ballgame.
The Cougars were unable to move the ball, however, on their next possession and after a punt saw their whole evening go up in smoke. Trapped deep in their own territory, Thomas Burchett on a 28-yard gain across the middle, which brought the ball to midfield and set the stage for Judd Plumley’s game-breaking, 49-yard scoring burst.
Plumley finished the evening with 128 yards rushing on 10 carries to catalyze the Healdsburg offense,
“We blew a couple of tackles and Plumley turned it into a touchdown.” Said Conroy, whose club found itself down 21-0 entering the final 12 minutes of play
The Ranch marched to its only score in the final seconds of the game when sophomore running back Chris Stevens punched the ball across from 1-yard out.
Junior running back Chris Jensen led the Cougars with 68 yards rushing on 15 carries (which gives him 189 yards rushing on 30 carries for the season). Stevens, meanwhile, managed 36 yards rushing on the evening on just four carries.
As things turned out, penalties also haunted the Cougars all night as they were flagged 12 times for 105 yards.
“Shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times,” conceded Conroy, whose offense was its own worst enemy at times. “We had at least three good gains negated by penalties.”
The Cougars return to action of Friday against visiting Petaluma High at 8 p.m. The junior varsity contest gets started at 5:30 p.m.
Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.