NCS football: Power outage can’t stop Pumas

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Carrillo defense stop Dougherty Valley's Michael Spivey during the first round of playoffs held at Maria Carrillo High School, Nov. 20, 2010. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD)

Where was Maria Carrillo when the lights went out?

Leading 6-0 and playing rugged defense on its home field in a North Coast Section Division 2 playoff opener against Dougherty Valley. After about 20 minutes of milling around in the dark and trying to stay warm, not much changed for the Pumas when the field lights came back on. They took over on a punt and drove 69 yards to a second-quarter touchdown, going up 14-0 with a successful 2-point conversion.

By the time this muddy game was over, eighth-seeded Maria Carrillo was walking off the field with a 34-6 victory.

Sam Atoe ran for two touchdowns, threw two long scoring passes on broken plays and keyed an inspired defense from his middle linebacker position, helping the Pumas (7-4) to their first postseason win since 2005.

“I’m very proud of my team and my boys,” coach Jay Higgins said afterward.

The Carrillo defense was absolutely stifling in the first half when it held the Wildcats to 1 total yard, minus-5 yards rushing and just one first down. Higgins and his staff knew Dougherty Valley ran a run-heavy offense from the wishbone formation, and the Pumas were ready. The visitors picked up the pace in the second half but wound up averaging just 3.3 yards on their 37 carries (for 122 yards total).

“We knew they were gonna try to come out and run power football on us, we knew they were gonna try to run off tackle,” Higgins said. “And they like to do some other things — iso, and a little counter-trey. We felt like that was their bread and butter, and worked real hard to try to take that away from them. And I think we did a pretty fair job of it.”

Meanwhile, Atoe scored from 5 yards out on third-and-goal in the first quarter, hit Nick Pinney for a 31-yard touchdown in the second, found Emilio Pollock from 35 yards out in the third and plunged into the end zone from a yard out on fourth-and-goal in the fourth. Junior-varsity call-up Sage Ritchie finished the scoring with a 30-yard run late in the game.

No. 9 Dougherty Valley (5-6) averted the shutout with Lucas Raventos’ 4-yard touchdown run with 4:44 left in the game, aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a Wildcats punt and a 46-yard run by Xavier Vaesau.

If the Pumas and Wildcats were the opposing forces, the weather was a constant third party. The first quarter was staged in a steady rain, while the second played out mostly under clear skies. After some third-quarter drizzle, the sky briefly opened up for a downpour to start the final quarter.

It was bitterly cold throughout, and when the rain wasn’t falling, steam rose from huddles like a simmering volcano. The middle of the field looked like a chain of ponds, altering the play-calling on both sidelines.

“We did some things we didn’t really want to do, to stay out of the mess,” Higgins said.

The Pumas weren’t afraid to call pass plays, but they frequently broke down. Atoe scrambled several times, and both his scoring throws were second or third options. “He’s very composed, very poised,” Higgins said of his senior leader. “He doesn’t get rattled.”

Atoe finished with 83 yards on 13 carries, plus 112 yards on 7-of-10 passing. He threw one interception, and scored on one of two runs on 2-point conversions. Halfback Jake Delfino added 79 yards on 14 carries, and Pollock had 73 yards from scrimmage.

Maria Carrillo sacked Dougherty Valley quarterback Tyler Eastman four times in the second half, and Austin Krimont blocked a third-quarter punt.

Now things get really tough for the Pumas: a Friday quarterfinal game at Concord, the No. 1 seed in the division.

“If we come out and play our game and don’t let them dictate, I think we’ll give them a good run for their money,” Atoe said, steam still rising from his body in the cold, damp air. “It will definitely be a dogfight.”

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