Maria Carrillo cruises past American in NCS opener, 49-13

Maria Carrillo's Alex Netherda runs the ball during the game held at Maria Carrillo High School, Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Maria Carrillo’s Alex Netherda runs the ball during the game held at Maria Carrillo High School, Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By RICHARD J. MARCUS

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s been a while since the Maria Carrillo football team has been in post-season play, but Friday night the host Pumas didn’t waste their opportunity to etch their mark on the NCS Division 2 playoffs by playing a finely-tuned opening-round game.

In an explosive display of offense, No. 4-seed Maria Carrillo (7-4) ran wild on a smaller and less athletic No. 13-seed American (Fremont, 7-4) for a 49-13 victory that was more lopsided than the score would indicate.

Maria Carrillo will host a second-round game Friday night or next Saturday against either No. 12-seed Miramonte (Orinda) or No. 5-seed Casa Grande, who meet tonight in Petaluma.

“My senior class has not been to the playoffs before and this feels amazing,” Pumas star running back Alex Netherda said. “I’m loving it — this is an amazing way to go out my senior year and it’s not over yet. We are going to ride this as long as we can.”

The score was a competitive 14-7 lead for the Pumas at halftime before Maria Carrillo unleashed an onslaught of scoring in the third quarter — 35 points — and it was game over.

(See more photos from the game)

“We wore American down. We overwhelmed them,” Maria Carrillo coach Jay Higgs said of the third quarter. “We brought the same intensity tonight that we had all week in practice.”

The primary purveyor of the damage inflicted by Maria Carrillo against the outmanned American defense was the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Netherda, who runs the 300-meter hurdles on the Pumas’ track team and had an extra gear all night that outpaced American defenders.

Netherda rushed for 267 yards on 13 carries (20.5-yard average) with four touchdown runs (22, 35, 49 and 92 yards). Three of the scores were in the critical third quarter. On two of the scores, he was barely scratched.

“My offensive line was amazing all game, they were busting open huge holes,” Netherda said. “After that 92-yard score, I could tell American’s defense was gassed.”

“(Netherda) is a pretty good athlete,” American coach Bret Casey added. “Maria is one of the biggest teams we have played this year and No. 1 (Netherda) is the X-factor. We just got worn down.”

The Pumas defense forced four Eagles turnovers (three fumbles and one pick) which ended several American scoring chances.

“We had momentum at halftime but we couldn’t convert that in the second half,” Casey said. “We had a turnover to start the third quarter and the floodgates opened after that.”

The other scores for the Pumas came via a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Walker Rotherham to Shawn Pabros (second quarter), and third-quarter scores on a 2-yard quarterback keeper by Rotherham and a 58-yard scamper by Josh Groesbeck.

Maria Carrillo has won five of its last six games, with the one loss to Casa Grande 19-14 on the road on Oct. 24. If the Gauchos win today, the stage will be set for a rematch.

“It would be nice to play Casa because we lost to them in the regular season,” Netherda said. “I think as a team we are peaking right now at the perfect moment.”

When asked if he wanted to play Casa again, Higgs was diplomatic: “We relish the opportunity to play whoever has earned the right to play us next week. We will enjoy the win tonight and get back to work tomorrow.”

The other edge Maria Carrillo will have over its second-round opponent is the Pumas’ success at home (5-1 host record versus 2-3 on the road). It all adds up to an opportunity for Maria Carrillo to advance deep into the postseason.

“I feel like we are climbing on an upward trend as a team,” Higgs said.

“Maria has a good shot to do really well the rest of the playoffs,” said Casey right before boarding the Eagles’ team bus for the long ride back to Fremont.