Casa Grande’s Lawson too much for Montgomery to handle

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande quarterback JaJuan Lawson runs for a touchdown during Friday night's game against Montgomery in Petaluma. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande quarterback JaJuan Lawson runs for a touchdown during Friday night’s game against Montgomery in Petaluma. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

PETALUMA — Casa Grande’s quarterback was the difference in the game. Montgomery’s quarterback wound up in the hospital. And the league opener between the North Bay League’s hottest teams was never really in question as the Gauchos won 30-12 on Friday.

It was a hard-hitting game that allowed both teams to hold on to their aspirations. Casa, which looked like the best team in the Redwood Empire through the preseason, took another step toward proving it by beating an undefeated opponent. And Montgomery’s goal of moving back into the top tier in the NBL remained intact after the Vikings played the Gauchos even for the final 2½ quarters.

In fact, these teams looked like carbon copies except for Casa Grande’s X-factor, JaJuan Lawson. The senior quarterback ran for 188 yards, 176 in the first half as the Gauchos built a commanding 21-0 lead. He scored twice on dynamic runs, and by the time the visiting Vikings figured out a way to keep him in the pocket, they had too much ground to make up.

“Lawson’s the best player in the area,” Casa coach Trent Herzog said. “Hands down, the best athlete, best quarterback.”

Lawson’s passing stats were modest: 9 of 18 for 115 yards. But he made huge plays with his legs. And on defense the Gauchos stuck Lawson, a cornerback, on Montgomery’s most dangerous receiver. Etienne Ezeff wound up with five catches for 86 yards, but none of them against Lawson, according to Herzog.

It didn’t help Montgomery’s cause when starting quarterback Elijah Higgs, a poised leader, dislocated his shoulder as he was hit while throwing late in the first quarter. Higgs left the field in an ambulance. His replacement, junior RJ Flores, hadn’t played many significant downs this season before Friday.

Casa Grande hadn’t seen any film of Flores, and he showed off his arm with a 59-yard completion to Ezeff that set up the Vikings’ first touchdown. But he couldn’t rally his offense in the second half as new Montgomery coach Dean Haskins finally lost his first game after three wins.

“I’m actually feeling really good about it,” Haskins said. “I think we faced a little bit of adversity tonight, and I was really glad on how our kids reacted. I thought RJ did a great job stepping in and replacing Elijah. We came out at halftime and were able to stick with the game plan on defense and learn from our mistakes.”

Casa Grande had the Vikings back on their heels from the outset.

On the third play of the game, Higgs misread a receiver’s route and threw the ball right to Gauchos middle linebacker Casey Longaker, who intercepted at the Vikings’ 27.

Less than three minutes into the game, Lawson hit Miles Gardea with a short pass, and Gardea was able to reach over the goal line for a touchdown.

Casa increased its lead to 14-0 when Lawson juked a pass rusher in the backfield, outraced a host of Vikings, slipped another tackle around the Montgomery 20-yard line and completed an 87-yard scoring burst.

He made it 21-0 when he kept the ball on a fake reverse to Cody Hughson and shot up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown at 5:18 of the second quarter.

The funny thing though was Casa Grande wouldn’t score another touchdown after that. Monty did a better job of containing Lawson in the second half

Montgomery cut its deficit to 24-12 late in the third quarter when Logan Francavilla scored his second touchdown of the game. (The Vikings were unsuccessful on both extra-point attempts.)

In the fourth quarter, however, Casa’s Matt Abramo hit his second and third field goals, while the Vikings turned it over on downs on their one full possession.

Casa Grande (4-0) got 93 tough yards on 21 carries by John Porchivina, while Francavilla ran for 72 on 20 attempts for Monty. Herzog praised his players’ resolve, but also was impressed with the Vikings, and especially their speedy defense.

“My hat’s off to them,” Herzog said. “They’re gonna be a playoff team. I told Coach Haskins we’ll see ’em again.”

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

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