Carrillo runs all over Petaluma

Maria Carrillo's Sam Atoe picks up extra yardage as Petaluma's Chase Levo tries to bring him down Friday at Petaluma High School.

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — In their 2010 season opener, the Maria Carrillo Pumas again proved that Sam Atoe is one of the best all-around players in the Redwood Empire. Perhaps more important for their long-term prospects, the Pumas proved they have weapons beyond Atoe, too.

Maria Carrillo opened with a 33-13 road victory, sending Petaluma to its second straight defeat and avenging last year’s nearly symmetric result, a 34-14 loss.

The Trojans have already dropped more games in 2010 than they did in 2009, when they powered to a 12-1 season that included an undefeated mark in Sonoma County League play. Rick Krist, who replaced the legendary Steve Ellison this season, is still looking for his first win as Petaluma coach after falling to Santa Rosa a week ago.

Friday, the Pumas trotted out a four-headed backfield of perfectly interlocking pieces.

Atoe, with his elbows-first toughness and nose for the end zone, had 11 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Energetic Jake Delfino had 75 yards on 15 attempts. Big Andrew Messerschmitt, the clock-killer, ate up 50 yards between the tackles and scored once on 12 carries. And Emilio Pollock exploded for 123 yards on just six attempts — including a 50-yard touchdown run that gave Carrillo its final points.

Atoe also passed for a touchdown, to Mark Miller.

“I think before we played tonight, teams thought the Pumas were just me,” Atoe said afterward. “We surprised them with other people. There’s a lot of other people that teams need to watch, it’s not just me.”

The Trojans looked fired up to start the game, taking the opening kickoff and quickly scoring on Spencer Neve’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Adam Nizibian on a sluggo route. The extra point missed, but Petaluma had a 6-0 lead and its first points of the season.

“I thought they played better this week,” Carrillo coach Jay Higgins said of the Trojans. “I told our kids all week, we can’t expect the same performance from them. To see them come out and take that opening drive, it was impressive. But I was really pleased to see how our kids responded in that situation. That’s one thing I really love about this team. They’re real gritty, intense competitors.”

Atoe scored easily from eight yards out with just over a minute left in the first quarter, and the PAT gave Maria Carrillo a 7-6 lead. The Pumas capitalized on a fumble recovery — turnovers hurt Petaluma against Santa Rosa, too — when Atoe and Miller connected from eight yards out at the 9:00 mark of the second quarter, and Pollock’s 42-yard run (he broke three tackles along the way) set up Messerschmitt for another score that gave Carrillo a 19-6 lead at halftime.

When the Pumas took the second-half kickoff, ate up nearly five minutes of clock and delivered on Atoe’s three-yard scoring run, Petaluma’s chances dimmed. Neve’s second TD pass to Nizibian cut the deficit to 26-13 late in the third quarter, but the Trojans didn’t get any closer.

Neve finished 11 of 18 for 127 yards.

If Maria Carrillo has assembled a fine supporting cast, Atoe continues to hog the spotlight. Tall and fast, he is as much a force on defense as he is on offense, where he rotates between fullback and quarterback.

It isn’t just the senior’s athletic ability. He does the little things that coaches love. Friday, he broke up a pass 10 yards downfield on third-and-5, and alertly pounced on Delfino’s fumble at the Petaluma 16-yard line early in the third quarter — preserving the Pumas’ touchdown drive.

“He’s not a one-trick pony,” Higgins said. “He’s an excellent football player with a great skill set, a great attitude and a great character. He’s really an exceptional player. But I think that in fairness to the rest of our team, this is not a one-man team.”

We’ll find out just how balanced the Pumas are when they face another Sonoma County League power, Casa Grande, at home next Friday.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.