By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — What happens when a No. 16 seed faces a No. 1 seed in the North Coast Section playoffs? This: a 27-point second-quarter outburst, a 45-0 halftime lead and plenty of work for the second stringers.
Casa Grande, the top seed in Division 2, dispatched visiting Alameda 45-14 without much difficulty Saturday, getting big plays from the two guys who have been providing them all season. Quarterback JaJuan Lawson threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score, and John Porchivina scored three touchdowns, including a 76-yard burst that left a swarm of Hornets in his wake.
Then both retired to the bench for the entire second half.
“I think we answered the call pretty well,” said Lawson, who completed 8 of 12 passes for 76 yards. “I mean, we got up 45-0 at the half, and if we’d really wanted to, we could have put our foot to the throttle and made it a lot bigger.”
The undefeated Gauchos (11-0) will host a familiar foe in the second round next Saturday: the Windsor Jaguars, who came with Casa to the North Bay League from the Sonoma County League two years ago, and who hung tough in a 42-28 loss to Casa Grande on Nov. 1.
“It’s always harder when you play a team a second time,” Gauchos coach Trent Herzog told his players after the game.
All in all, it was one of Herzog’s shorter postgame speeches. And really, what was there to say? Casa Grande was clearly stronger, deeper and more efficient than the visitors from the Shoreline Division of the West Alameda County Conference.
Granted, it took Casa a little while to get rolling against Alameda. The Gauchos went three-and-out the first time they had the ball, and after middle linebacker Miles Gardea caused a fumble that a teammate recovered at the Alameda 26-yard line shortly thereafter, it looked like that possession would stall, too.
Gardea lined up to attempt a short field goal, but the Hornets jumped offside, and Herzog sent his offense back onto the field on fourth-and-goal from the 3. It was an aggressive move, but it was also an acknowledgment of the Gauchos’ instability in the kicking game. Matt Abramo, one of the region’s best kickers, pulled a calf muscle a week and a half ago and missed most of the past two games.
Casa Grande missed four extra points Saturday, two kicking and two passing. Abramo was on crutches as recently as Tuesday, but the medical report given to Herzog says he could beback by the middle of this week.
Given another shot on fourth down, Porchivina bulled up the middle and reached over the goal line for a touchdown. The Gauchos scored on their final seven possessions of the first half.
“I’m proud of our team. They didn’t take it lightly,” Herzog said. “They respected Alameda. They knew Alameda was athletic, they had some playmakers. I think it took us about six minutes to adjust to their speed. And once we did, we were able to take advantage of the game plan.”
At one point in the second quarter, Casa Grande scored twice in 74 seconds. Lawson’s nifty 42-yard touchdown run was followed immediately by teammate Casey Longaker’s fumble recovery, then by Lawson’s 18-yard scoring strike to Andre Kupelian. And 2:39 after that, the Gauchos were at it again, scoring on Lawson’s short pass to Kyle Chase after a slick play fake by the quarterback.
The Gauchos had 329 yards and 14 first downs at halftime. The Hornets had 22 yards and one first down.
Backup quarterbacks Brent Eger and JJ Anderson both took snaps for Casa in the second half, and five different running backs carried the ball. There was a running clock through the fourth quarter. Alameda kept most of its starters in, and scored a couple of meaningless touchdowns in the second half.
It was a day of futility for the Hornets (6-5). Their alternating quarterbacks, Elijah Hernandez and Sulaiman Hameed, combined to complete 3 of 19 passes for 50 yards.
This continues to be a historic campaign for the Gauchos, who wrapped up their first undefeated league season and now stand on the verge of another milestone.
“Casa’s never won more than 11 games,” Herzog said. “We’ve been 11-2 four times. We play Windsor. Hopefully we can get through Windsor and then we can talk about getting that 12th win. But our kids know to respect their opponents, and they know it’s not gonna be easy next week.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com.