Gauchos grind out win against Vikings

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — Hosting Montgomery in their homecoming game, the Casa Grande Gauchos found that the best offense is sometimes Steven Bentley’s defense. The final score from this highly anticipated NBL-SCL showdown: Casa’s offense 7, Montgomery’s offense 7, Bentley 14.

Casa Grande's Nick Sherry looks for an open man during the game held at Casa Grande High School, Sept. 24, 2010. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

The junior defensive back stole the show — and the ball — returning interceptions 69 and 65 yards for touchdowns in Casa’s 21-7 victory.

The Gauchos improved to 3-0, while the Vikings fell to an uncharacteristic 0-3.

As is so often the case, these two interleague foes played a game of hard-earned yards and big hits. Javonie Oden, Casa Grande’s star running back, had just 40 yards on 12 carries, while strong-armed quarterback Nick Sherry passed for a modest 127. All told, the Gauchos mustered just 188 yards from scrimmage.

Casa, which had to fight from behind in each of its first two wins of 2010, scored on its first possession when Jonathon Cole got behind Montgomery’s defense on fourth-and-inches and caught Sherry’s down the middle for an easy 26-yard touchdown.

Then the Gauchos more or less went silent on that side of the ball. Sherry, one of the Redwood Empire’s top quarterbacks, completed his first five passes, including 4-of-4 to four different receivers on the scoring drive. His next seven passes fell incomplete as the Vikings’ defense stiffened, and he struggled to regain his rhythm in the second half with two of his starting offensive line out.

“Montgomery is Montgomery,” Casa coach Trent Herzog said afterward. “I don’t care what record they have. They’re always physical, they’re always tough.”

Sherry appeared to hit Anthony Poole for a 60-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but the play was called back for clipping. Three plays later, Casa Grande was punting the ball.

“We’ve got to clean up the penalties,” Herzog said. “That’s two games now where we probably had more than 100 yards in penalties. We have to get rid of the mental mistakes.”

Montgomery, meanwhile, fought itself all night. Alex Ciudad-Real had 102 tough yards on 25 carries. Danny McRae had 100 yards on 12-of-24 passing, but had only two completions of 15 yards or more as the Gauchos constantly showed a Cover 4 scheme but shifted into Cover 2.

The Vikings ventured into Casa territory seven times, but didn’t score until seven seconds remained in the game (on McRae’s 22-yard pass to Davonte Love). Monty had deep drives end on a fumble, on an expiring clock, and on fourth-down stops by Casa Grande’s Makana Garrigan and RJ Busse.

And, of course, on Bentley’s two game-changing interceptions. On the first, late in the second quarter, a teammate caught a piece of the ball as it left McRae’s hand. Bentley grabbed it and sped down the left sideline. In the third quarter, he victimized McRae again and this time zig-zagged his way down the field spectacularly, at one point spinning out of the grasp of Montgomery’s 315-pound Dante Cattaneo.

“Everything fell into place for us,” said Bentley, who played quarterback as a freshman and sophomore. “I made good reads and jumped on it.”

Garrigan, usually the Gauchos’ defensive playmaker, suffered a stinger early in the game but played through the injury.

Casa Grande’s victory helped avenge a 14-7 loss to the Vikings in the semifinals of last year’s North Coast Section Division II playoffs. Two years ago, Montgomery came into this game with an 0-2 record to Casa’s 2-0, and the two teams fought to a scoreless tie.

This time, Steven Bentley left nothing to chance. You can see his heroics tonight at 8:30 on Comcast Home Network (Comcast Channel 104).

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