Football: Montgomery scores decisive 28-3 win over Rancho Cotate


Montgomery's Justin Eatmon breaks a tackle from Rancho Cotate's Josiah Guerra for a touchdown during Friday's game. (Conner Jay /  The Press Democrat)

Montgomery’s Justin Eatmon breaks a tackle from Rancho Cotate’s Josiah Guerra for a touchdown during Friday’s game. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Scheduling homecoming after a huge win helped Montgomery avoid a letdown in yet another big game as the Vikings handled Rancho Cotate, 28-3, in a North Bay League game Friday night in Santa Rosa.

Spotting the visitors an early score, Montgomery made big plays on both sides of the ball to take control. The Vikings’ most complete performance on the season added a deep passing attack to complement an already strong running game and stingy defense.

“This was huge,” said linebacker Henry Stelzner, the game’s leading tackler. “Overall this was our best game. We made the least amount of mistakes and converted most of theirs.”

While the Vikings remain resurgent, Rancho Cotate again was left searching for answers. The Cougars had appeared to regain footing in league play following an uneven non-league set.

“Everyone made mistakes. We’ve just got to bounce back,” said fullback-linebacker Tanoa Peleti.

Montgomery was the team making mistakes early with a pair of pass interference penalties keeping alive Rancho Cotate drives including the game opener. Rancho Cotate booted a field goal on that series, but would not score again.

The resilience Montgomery showed in staying close with Casa Grande and then defeating Cardinal Newman was evident again as Rancho Cotate completed the Vikings’ rugged league opening slate.

(See a gallery of photos from the game)

Montgomery took the lead for good on a 51-yard pass from R.J. Flores to Justin Eatmon. Flores, a backup starting his second varsity game, was 12-for-19 for 208 yards and Eatmon caught seven for 172 yards and two scores.

Converting two interceptions into scores, Montgomery scored three touchdowns in the game-changing second quarter.

Coming off an overtime win against Cardinal Newman, the Vikings prepared for Rancho Cotate fully aware they had not been competitive with the Cougars in recent years and did not want to disappoint a big crowd.

“It was homecoming and if we lost everyone was going to hate me,” Flores said. “I had a little nerves. But it’s football. You’re supposed to have fun.”

Starting in place of Elijah Higgs — injured and out two more weeks — Flores played with poise to give teammates confidence against a strong and skilled Rancho Cotate team.

After gaining just one first down on Montgomery’s opening two possessions, the Vikings opened up the playbook. On third down early in the second period Flores hit Eatmon down the middle for the game’s longest pass play and the lead.

Montgomery started the possession with good field position after forcing a punt off a sack by Justin Perry with an assist from George Pennington.

Still, a defensive battle appeared to take hold. Then the Vikings’ Bryan Dingus came hard at the Rancho Cotate quarterback, tipped the pass attempt, and Pennington came down with the interception. Three plays later Flores connected again with Eatmon, who slipped a tackle and went 30 yards for the score.

“We have to clean up the turnovers. That’s been the big thing all year,” said Peleti, a Cougars senior leader.

On the Cougars’ next possession, Cole Larson turned and snagged an interception with Rancho Cotate on the move.

A 41-yard Flores-to-Eatmon pass set up Montgomery for Logan Francavilla’s 1-yard touchdown run for the third score of the second period.

Averaging more than 200 yards rushing a game, Montgomery has been keeping the offense simple behind workhorse Francavilla. Seeking more out of the passing game, Montgomery went deep more often Friday, aiming for big plays and to take some of the offensive load off the running game.

“The kids were fired up and ready to go. This was another significant game for us,” said Montgomery coach Dean Haskins.

A fast and sure tackling defense kept Rancho Cotate bottled up whether the Cougars went with a passing quarterback or the option running game.

Coming into the contest Montgomery wanted a win to go 2-1 to open league play. With that goal accomplished, Montgomery now aims for a return to the North Coast Section playoffs.

“We knew we had to be good these first three weeks,” Stelzner said.

Michael Coit can be reached at

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