By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Maria Carrillo rolled out the welcome mat on the 2012 NBL season on Friday night and then wasted little time in seizing control of the league opener against Santa Rosa.
In fact, before the visiting Panthers (2-2, 0-1) could figure out what hit them the Pumas had posted a 28-0 lead in the game’s first nine minutes and Maria Carrillo (2-2, 1-0) coasted to a 50-34 victory.
“That first quarter kind of hurt us. Our game plan didn’t work as expected,” Santa Rosa coach Dave Duncan said. “Maria Carrillo did a very good job tonight. They did what they needed to do to win.”
The victory rights the ship for a Puma team that struggled to start the season and opened with an embarrassing loss to Analy.
“Our mindset has been to stay focused,” Pumas coach Jay Higgins said. “The name of the game is to get better every week and we are doing that.”
With the league win, all eight of Maria Carrillo’s fall sports teams — football, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, and girls tennis, golf and volleyball — are undefeated thus far in NBL play.
The football squad kept the NBL winning streak alive for Pumas sports teams by methodical building of a five touchdown lead.
“That’s what we wanted to do, to come out fast and strong,” Higgins said. “We felt there were some soft spots we could exploit (in the Panther’s defense).”
The first three Maria Carrillo scores were pounded out on the ground, as the Pumas used their superior speed and worked the outer edge of the Panthers defense for large gains. Santa Rosa defenders’ tackling was also less than stellar.
Pumas scoring runs by Sage Ritchie (17 yards), Joe Pinney (10 yards), and quarterback Julian Gonzalez (1 yard) gave Maria Carrillo a 21-0 lead with 4:17 to play in the first quarter. Add in a 48-yard picture perfect touchdown pass thrown by Gonzalez to streaking receiver Herbie Polk and a Ritchie 1-yard scoring run and Maria Carrillo built an insurmountable 36-0 lead just 20 seconds into the second quarter.
Meanwhile Santa Rosa’s offense struggled to sustain drives and Panthers quarterback Vince Jones (5-17, 66 yards) was intercepted three times in the first half, twice by Pumas defensive back Peter Kitsamba.
“Kitsamba played some outstanding defense tonight,” Higgins said.
In the second half Santa Rosa’s offense showed some signs of life against Maria Carrillo’s second string defense, which played for much of the final 20 minutes.
“Santa Rosa has some good athletes on that team and they will be fine,” Higgins said.
Even though the outcome was never in doubt, Santa Rosa made the game interesting in the third quarter by outscoring the Pumas 21-7. A few Panther highlights included Jones connecting on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Alfredo Carretero and an 85-yard kick-off return by Isaiah Barron.
“In the second half our kids fought and we didn’t give up,” Duncan said. “We turned it around in the second half and finished on a positive.”
The Pumas Alex Netherda led all rushers with 127 yards on six carries that included a 80-yard scoring run.
Jones led the Panthers on the ground with 106 yards on 16 carries. Panther running back Jahray Hayes ran for 100 yards on 27 attempts with two touchdowns.