SCL football: Petaluma wears down Piner

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — Chalk one up for old-fashioned football.

Piner likes to spread the field with three or four receivers and throw, throw, throw. Petaluma, with its triple-option offense, prefers to run, run, run, and mostly right up the middle. In a showdown between evenly matched but stylistically distinct Sonoma County League rivals at Petaluma High on Friday night, the Trojans wore down the visitors, pitched a second-half shutout and emerged with a 23-12 victory.

“Last week, we kind of abandoned ourselves,” Petaluma coach Rick Krist said, referring to the Trojans’ 13-5 loss at Sonoma Valley. “We got back to who we were and ran old triple-option football. … We got back to our true form, just basics and fundamentals.”

It might have been a very different outcome if the Piner receivers had been able to catch the ball consistently. It’s hard to excel in a pass-based system if the back end of those passes isn’t executed well.

Prospectors quarterback Tony Martignoli wound up with mixed statistics: 18 of 38 for 185 yards. But those numbers are deceptive. He simply didn’t get a lot of help from his receiving corps.

Martignoli missed his first six passes, for example, and his teammates got their hands on at least five of them. They probably mishandled 10 passes on the night.

“We had a lot of dropped passes, and that killed us,” Piner coach John Antonio said. “It’s killed us all season. You can’t keep your offense on the field if you drop the football. And you give them opportunities.”

The Prospectors’ passing game started to click late in the first quarter, though, and when Tyler Okiyama broke wide open on a play that began at the Petaluma 30-yard line, 27 seconds into the second quarter, Martignoli found him for the touchdown. Piner’s Ty Simmons missed the extra point, but his team was up 6-0.

Petaluma immediately countered with a bullish 96-yard drive. It was almost entirely built on runs, but the Trojans’ first pass of the day was a good one — a 30-yard completion from Brendan White to

Robert Krist, the coach’s son, that helped set up White’s 1-yard touchdown plunge on third-and-goal.

White had a strange night throwing the ball. He completed just three passes in eight attempts, but they went for 30, 30 and 40 yards.

The Prospectors were still trailing 7-6 late in the second quarter when linebacker Henry Ah Ching leaped to tip, and then intercept, one of White’s passes at his own 45-yard line. Piner moved to the Petaluma 10, and scored on a pass by Martignoli that was tipped by the Trojans’ Greg Thomas, only to fall into the arms of Simmons in the end zone.

Martignoli targeted Simmons again on the 2-point conversion try, but this time Thomas jumped the route even more cleanly, and intercepted the pass.

Piner still clung to a 12-10 lead after three quarters, but Petaluma had begun to turn the tide. The Prospectors’ receivers were no longer running free in the secondary. In fact, Martignoli’s running produced the only big plays for Piner in the second half.

Petaluma regained the lead with 10:34 remaining. Set up by a horse-collar penalty and a 38-yard run by Yusef Kawasami, White wound up running the ball in from the 5-yard line. His pass on the conversion attempt fell incomplete, and the Trojans led 16-12.

They padded their lead about 4½ minutes later on Kawasami’s 5-yard run, teed up by White’s 40-yard pass to all-alone Harrison Royall.

Petaluma defensive back Connor Dennison helped seal the win with a fumble recovery at the 5:17 mark. Finally, Piner turned over the ball on downs with seven seconds left.

Both schools are now 1-1 in the SCL.

Analy, the top-ranked school in the Redwood Empire until last weekend, remains the overwhelming favorite to win the league this year. But Krist wasn’t willing to call Friday night’s game here the battle for second place.

“I don’t think I’ll say that until it’s out of the realm of possibility to win a championship,” he said. “That wouldn’t be fair to my players.”

On this night, anyway, the Trojans looked tough enough to compete for a title.

You can reach staff writer Phil Barber at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.