By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Scoring four touchdowns and playing shutdown defense in the second half defines putting away an opponent as Casa Grande did in defeating Montgomery to reach the section title game.
Ahead by just a point after two quarters, Casa Grande continued making big plays on offense and stifled Montgomery’s stout run game to take control.
Powering the Gauchos was John Porchvina, who had five scores including returning an interception for a touchdown in the 42-13 win.
“We were never down, but Montgomery was tough. It made for a fun game,” Porchivina said. “We just lit a fire under us and got after it.”
After answering Casa Grande throughout the first half, Montgomery couldn’t carry that momentum into the final two periods.
The keys for Montgomery all season — grinding out yards and sure tackling — were missing too often in the decisive stretches.
“It’s not how we wanted it to end,” said linebacker Henry Stelzner. “You’ve got to look back at the year and it was just an awesome experience.”
With the win Casa Grande remains undefeated going into the North Coast Section Division 2 championship contest against Miramonte on Saturday at Rancho Cotate. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Keeping alive the goal to bring home Casa Grande’s first section football championship demanded ample Gauchos grit against resurgent Montgomery.
While the Gauchos handled the Vikings in their North Bay League contest, the section semifinal figured to be a greater challenge.
“We knew we would get a physical game. The second half we just picked it up,” said Casa Grande quarterback JaJuan Lawson.
The running attack has been wearing down opponents all year, even more so in the Montgomery game.
Opening the second half with a scoring drive, Casa Grande ran for all 83 yards with four different backs getting touches including Cody Hughson on the 33 yard touchdown.
Forcing Montgomery to punt without gaining a first down, Casa Grande then went 69 yards in a dozen plays with all but two runs.
The big play was a 16-yard scamper by Lawson on a fourth-down conversion. Porchivina would later score from 3 yards out.
“Our line was just opening huge holes,” Porchivina said. “Coach always says in big-time games our big-time players step up.”
On defense the leaders were linebacker Porchivina and safety Brad Freitas, each with seven tackles.
Montgomery didn’t record a first down in the second half until near the end of the third quarter. That came on a Logan Francavilla run as the Vikings’ workhorse ground out 148 yards on the night.
Yet that Montgomery drive would end with Porchvina returning an interception 80 yards for the game’s final score.
Casa Grande snagged three interceptions — two in the second half — to frustrate Montgomery’s quarterbacks.
For two periods Montgomery matched Casa Grande on both sides of the ball.
After yielding a touchdown on Casa Grande’s first play of the game, Montgomery dug in on defense. The Vikings held the Gauchos without a first down on the next two possessions.
Then the Vikings went 69 yards with R.J. Flores hitting Elijah Higgs on a scoring pass.
Montgomery would answer Casa Grande’s next score following a blocked punt by the Vikings Justin Eatmon. Nine plays later Francavilla ran around and over Gauchos defenders for the 6 -ard score.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” said Montgomery coach Dean Haskins. “Our team has improved every week. The team we have is capable of beating anybody.”
An upset was brewing with Montgomery giving Casa Grande all the Gauchos could handle.
Determined to keep their season alive, the Gauchos responded to fiery words from coach Trent Herzog and played with even greater purpose the final two periods.
“He really got our blood boiling,” Porchivina said. “We got rolling real strong.”
Michael Coit can be reached at Mike.Coit@pressdemocrat.com.