Gauchos look for home-field advantage on Saturday

Casa Grande quarterback Nick Sherry, left, will lead Gauchos’ offense Saturday night. (PD photo by Scott Manchester).

ByHOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Don’t ask Casa Grande quarterback Nick Sherry or teammates Jonathon Cole, Mike Ielmorini or Anthony Poole what it feels like to lose on their home field. They don‘t have a clue.

In the two years those four have been on the varsity, Casa is 12-0 on its home turf . The No. 4 seeded Gauchos hope to make No. 5 Northgate the next victim when the teams meet tonight in a North Coast Section Division II quarterfinal contest.

Two other stars on the team did play on the last Casa team to lose at home. As sophomores in 2008, Javonie Oden and Makana Garrigan were on the squad that lost at home to cross-town rival Petaluma. That was on Oct. 10 and the final was 21-14.

Several reasons why Casa is so tough at home are obvious. The home crowd, pride in protecting their turf and of course, athletic talent.

“Another reason that we’re good at home is that we play on natural grass and some of our opponents play most of the time on artificial turf,” coach Trent Herzog said. “Those teams come in here and can’t handle the muddy and wet conditions that we get in late fall.”

Quarterbacks oftentimes have trouble accurately throwing a wet ball, but not the 6-foot-5 Sherry. He’s consistent whether it’s wet or dry. As a two-year starter, he has passed for 4,622 yards. Forty-two of his 325 completions have resulted in touchdowns.

“Sherry’s done it in dry and wet conditions,” Herzog said. “The key is that he’s got huge hands. He can get a good grip on a wet ball and he’s completed plenty of passes when the conditions weren’t ideal.”

Sherry was so good last year, he was heavily-recruited by major colleges and has decided to play for the University of Colorado.

Last Saturday night while defeating first round foe American, 29-0, in a driving rainstorm, Sherry completed 7-of-12 passes for 160 yards.

Having a passer who can control the ball on a wet field is a gigantic edge. His receivers can make their cuts and know where to expect the ball while the defense is slipping and sliding.

The field figures to be muddy tonight and if the forecast of rain proves correct, it could be a quagmire.

Herzog calls Garrigan the best two-way player he’s seen at Casa. Against American, Garrigan ran for two TDs and caught a 48-yard pass for another. He plays strong safety on defense.

Tonight’s opponent, Northgate, lives and dies with its running game.

“They’ll run 80 percent of the time,” said Herzog. “They use a double wing toss offense and they score a lot of points.” Herzog and his coaches saw Northgate play Hayward on Nov. 12 and saw films from three games.

While the Broncos average 35 points per game, they have given up an average of 41 in their last six games.

The teams have one common opponent. Casa suffered its only loss, 36-28, at Ygnacio Valley. Northgate lost at home to the team from Concord, 55-14.

EL MOLINO AT MIDDLETOWN

This is an intriguing Division IV match-up between Middletown, a team that has dominated the small school North Central League I North, and El Molino, which has been facing much tougher competition in the Sonoma County League.

The game will be played at Middletown because the No. 4 Mustangs (10-1) won their league while No. 5 El Molino (7-4) finished behind Casa Grande in the SCL.

El Molino has a balanced offense while running back David Pike carries the load for Middletown. The 190-pound senior is probably the best small school runner in the Empire.

“This is the game where we’ll find out about ourselves,” long-time coach Bill Foltmer said. “We’ll see more quality athletes than we’re used to seeing in our league.”

Foltmer points out that El Molino’s enrollment (864) is about twice that of Middletown (484).

After bringing up the disparity in school size, Foltmer adds, “Still, we have a lot of seniors on this team, and if ever there was a year that we can compete against a larger school, this is the time.”

Foltmer said the Middletown field will be wet and it will be cold tonight.

“Weather won’t be a factor,” he predicted. “Both teams can handle the conditions.”
Foltmer said his defense will have to shut down Lions’ quarterback Mike Pierson.
“He’s a big guy (6-foot 4) and throws the ball exceptionally well,” Foltmer said. “My kids haven’t seen a quarterback that can throw like he does.”

ST. VINCENT AT TOMALES

This is the second time this year these teams have met. The first time was Sept. 11 and St. Vincent won on its artificial turf, 35-8. This time the stakes are higher. The winner advances to the Division V title game next weekend.

Tomales, winner of the NCL II South, is the No. 3 seed while St. Vincent (4-7) is No. 2.
Both coaches are adamant their teams have improved since the first meeting.

“We’re playing our best football of the year,” Tomales coach Leon Feliciano said. His team has won five straight.

“The first time we played, St. Vincent capitalized on our turnovers. Lately, we’ve taken better care of the ball.

“Also, the conditions will be different this time around. That first game was during the day and now we’re playing at night. They have artificial turf and we have plain old grass. Also, the field is muddy and could get worse. Plus it’s going to be cold.

“We’re used to the conditions we’ll face. There’ll be a lot of changes for St. Vincent.”
One thing in St. Vincent’s favor is depth. The Mustangs have 33 players on their roster compared to 17 for Tomales.

Quarterback Conor Brown is breaking nearly all the St. Vincent passing marks. The senior completed 15-of-18 in the opening round win over Calistoga (48-6).

“We’re putting it together at the right time of the year,” Mustangs coach Gary Galloway said. “We’re playing with confidence.”