Aiming for strong finish, Montgomery dispatches Santa Rosa

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Facing must-win games over the final three weeks to possibly make the section playoffs, Montgomery chalked up the first victory Friday at Santa Rosa.

Montgomery's Alex Ciudad-Real scores on a run from the 46-yard line Friday against Santa Rosa. Ciudad-Real had two touchdowns in Montgomery's 21-7 win. (SCOTT MANCHESTER / For The Press Democrat)

Running a balanced offense that was enough to overcome a rash of penalties, Montgomery took a 21-7 halftime lead and carried that score onto the bus home to prepare for the next two tests to close out North Bay League play.

“We just need to keep it up and play harder next week. We definitely can make the playoffs,” said Montgomery running back Alex Ciudad-Real, who scored two touchdowns on the night.

The longtime rivalry with Santa Rosa has lost some of its luster, but don’t tell that to the Panthers, who played a strong game on both sides of the ball.

“We’re getting there, we’re getting better. We just haven’t been able to close the deal,” said Santa Rosa coach Les Richardson.

The contest was decided in the first half. Neither team scored in the second half, with each sustaining long drives that came up short and exchanging punts on the remaining possessions.

Montgomery made moving the ball look easy on its first possession of the game. The return of running back Taylor Wagner, who had been ineligible, made clear that the Vikings would have been more competitive in their losses.

The biggest gains came on pitches to Wagner that gave him room to get his legs going. Ciudad-Real then took the ball in from 8 yards out to open the scoring. He finished with 143 yards on 15 carries.

With the Vikings’ defense denying the Panthers much running room, forcing a series of punts, Montgomery started two of its first three drives on Santa Rosa’s side of the field.

The third time with the ball, the Vikings only needed three plays to score. Wagner scampered 22 yards and then Curtis Ceniceros threw a low strike that Antony Gebauer gathered in for the 11 yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.

The tandem connected four times for 41 yards in the first half, enough to keep Santa Rosa’s linebackers from crowding up front to stop the run.

Taking a similar approach, Santa Rosa threw the ball to create running room. The Panthers passed on five of their first dozen plays but made only a single completion and one first down on those three possessions.

A turnover following Montgomery’s second score put the Vikings in position for a big lead.

Starting on the Santa Rosa 27-yard line, the Vikings ran twice to set up first down and goal. After a short gain and incomplete pass, Montgomery committed two penalties to go backward. A reverse set up a long fourth down. Sticking with the run, Wagner carried 9 yards, but was tackled a yard short of the end zone.

Backed up against its goal line following the defensive stop, Santa Rosa stayed with the pass and was rewarded. Kalen Rosselli hit a wide-open Nick Keeton 30 yards downfield, the receiver shed a tackler trying to strip the ball near midfield and sped for the score to cut the deficit in half.

All of a sudden, Santa Rosa had momentum. Three plays later, Montgomery completed a pass near the first-down marker when Ethan Rosselli stripped the ball and the Panthers took over on a short field.

But a pair of penalties put the Panthers in a hole. Santa Rosa pushed close enough for a field goal attempt, with Keeton getting plenty of leg on a 42-yard effort that was just wide.

Montgomery regrouped for a pair of first downs and then Ciudad-Real broke the game’s longest run for a score. Slowed near the right sideline, the speedy, powerful back cut across the field to elude tacklers and went up the left side for the 46-yard score.

“I had good blocks. I just wanted to find open field, look where it’s green,” Ciudad-Real said.

The longest run on the night for Santa Rosa, a 24-yard scamper by Jaray Hayes was the big play on a drive that stalled at the Montgomery 20-yard line.

Penalties stymied Montgomery on the opening drive of the second half. But the drive ate up some seven minutes of the clock.

Santa Rosa fans were stomping their feet after Keeton returned the punt 80 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back on a blocking penalty.

A sack by Ethan Rosselli — his second on the night — set up the Panthers for their best sustained drive. A roughing-the-passer penalty kept Santa Rosa moving, reaching inside the Montgomery 10-yard line. A series of incomplete passes gave Montgomery the ball, and the Vikings held on for the win.

“I told them there’s three Friday nights left. They can turn it around. We’ll see,” said Montgomery coach Jason Franci.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.