Pretty good

Football demolished South San on Homecoming night, 48-0

Travis+McCracken+evades+tacklers+against+Wagner.+McCracken+rushed+for+93+yards+and+two+touchdowns+Thursday+night+against+South+San.

Travis McCracken evades tacklers against Wagner. McCracken rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns Thursday night against South San.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Some things are just predictable.

Football took on South San Thursday night, in a game where everything around the game seemingly conspired against the Bobcats. Their first-year head coach was allowed just three weeks of practice before the game, and not a single scrimmage nor game, before making their season debut. And they made that debut on Homecoming night, in front of a hostile crowd of fans still reeling from the cancellation of their favorite team’s last home game. Not to mention, the Rangers were coming off a huge upset win over Clemens, and rode that wave throughout the week. Everything pointed to a home team victory.

And yet, to paraphrase Herm Edwards, “you have to play, to win the game.” And play they did, to the tune of six touchdowns and five forced turnovers.

The game started off with a bang, as the Rangers drove 68 yards in six plays, bouncing touches between two receivers and three running backs along the way. Justin Avery ran for 5 yards on play No. 5, then powered up the middle for 6 yards and six points on play No. 6. If the goal was to score a point per play, without busting, Austin Hosier’s successful extra point attempt ended that symmetry. But most teams would rather score as much as possible than follow such an arbitrary system, so it may be a while before a team completes a full game under these unnecessarily strict circumstances.

South San answered not with a bang of its own, but with a whimper, succumbing to two negative-yardage plays before tossing an ill-advised, third-down interception to Noah Flores. Oddly enough, that situation played out in an eerily similar fashion twice more in the first quarter: on their second drive, the Bobcats threw another interception, this time to Blake Bowman; on their third attempt at moving the ball, they threw yet another pick, this time to Andrew Montalvo. All three of Brendan Riojas’ opposite-team completions came on third down, which is probably wholly significance aside from the basic human tendency to overemphasize small sample size anomalies. 

Meanwhile, the Rangers just kept scoring. Travis McCracken followed up Avery’s touchdown run with one of his own, this time from a yard out. On their way to the end zone, the offense threw a pass to a tight end, their second such pass of the game. Although this offense rarely utilizes their tight ends, their top two options – Will Ford and Dylan Domel – combined for six catches, 84 yards and a touchdown (more on that later). That development may prove a valuable one down the road, if the position can become a true threat for the first time in years.

The Rangers began their next possession with an incomplete pass, their first play of a baker’s dozen that didn’t result in positive yardage. This was apparently a sign of things to come, as quarterback Jalen Nutt was sacked on an ultimately-meaningless 4th down. (Ultimately meaningless, of course, because South San capitalized on their envious field position by throwing their third and final interception.)

The Rangers’ next offensive drive showed a lot more promise, however. Will Strachan, who later made an impressive play down the field, caught his first varsity target for seven yards. And while that may not seem like a big deal, if Strachan can perform anywhere near the level of head coach Larry Hill’s expectations, he’ll instantly become a valuable piece of this offense. Nutt capped off a 71-yard drive with a thrilling dive into the end zone, a play which both extended the lead to 21-0 and proved that his offense wasn’t one-and-done, as far as quarters are concerned.

South San responded with their best drive of the game: a punt. After a delay of game, fumbled handoff and sack pushed the Bobcats back to their own 8-yard line, they were finally set. Well, they had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game, and then aided an already-impressive Flores return with a chop block, which resulted in the Rangers’ best drive-starting field position of the night … but hey, it’s still a step in the right direction!

The Bobcats held the Rangers to a 31-yard field goal, but Hosier’s golden leg extended the lead to 24-0. Hosier was perfect on the night, converting both field goal attempts and all six (!) extra points.

South San took another stab at earning yardage, but those plans were again cut short by a stout Ranger defense. This time, it was Trey Moore, who had already tacked a sack on to his season stat line. He laid the wood on a Bobcat rusher, readjusted to grab the ball and jogged off the field. So the offense took over at their own 38-yard line.

After a long march down the field, the Rangers lined up on the South San goal line, hoping to add a few more integers to that number on the scoreboard. They handed the ball off to Justin Avery off right guard, but the play was whistled dead as he crossed the plane. Apparently, South San’s coach wanted to give his players a quick reprieve and discuss some strategy. So when the timeout ended, Hill sent in the same play: Avery off right guard. Touchdown.

Down 31-0, South San decided not to risk further damage, and ran out the clock on the first half.

Yup, all that was just the first half.

South San, who did not deserve any of this, received the second half kickoff. They boasted a new signal-caller, and although he threw less interceptions (none) than his predecessor, he still couldn’t get much done. Luke Seminaro blew through the offensive line for a 15-yard sack, and the Bobcats were forced to punt after a three-and-out.

Smithson Valley boasted a new quarterback as well, although theirs entered out of mercy rather than desperation. Nutt, who finished with 108 total yards and two touchdowns on 16 touches, ceded the position to Derek Mata, who completed six of eight passes for 83 yards. Mata led the offense 22 yards down the field before an incompletion in no-man’s land gave the young passer a fourth-and-5. But rather than be conservative and hit a checkdown or quick route, Mata went full-send, lofting a beautiful, over-the-shoulder throw to a streaking Will Ford in the end zone, the ball passing just beyond the trailing corner’s fingertips. 

The 28-yard reception guaranteed that the momentum built in the first half was entirely repeatable. And in case anyone still disputed that, defensive ends Gavin Woods and Joe Van Pelt forced a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Kolton Scheppler. That was the defense’s 5th and final forced turnover on the night, or an average of one every other South San drive (the numbers get even crazier when discounting lazy possessions at the end of each half). And, considering their success against, er, better established teams like Clemens, the dominance isn’t a fluke. 

Sure, forcing five turnovers isn’t a consistent path to success. But it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter, on their 9th drive of the game, that the Bobcats ran a play on the Smithson Valley half of the field. They’d crossed midfield before, sure, but that was mostly to chase Ranger running backs or, one one occasion, to bust out a pretty impressive run of their own – that is, before Moore forced his fumble, of course. Those two plays in Ranger territory resulted in a no-gain rush and a Cole Douglass tackle for loss – the latter of which forced a turnover on downs.

The Rangers’ last two drives ended in a 35-yard field goal and a 23-yard rushing touchdown; South San’s finished on a turnover on downs, then trudged off the field as the clock hit zero on their season opener. These end-of-game possessions paint a picturesque portrait of Thursday night’s festivities: South San simply wasn’t ready, and how could they be? Playing a team that’s hitting their stride, before scrimmaging or even getting in a month of practice, is a tall task. And it showed: South San committed nine penalties for just 45 yards. Those miscues will lessen over time.

In the end, this game means very little. The Rangers were supposed to destroy the Bobcats, and everyone knew it – one fan jokingly complimented the latter squad for not losing 72-0. But there is one takeaway that shouldn’t be overlooked, and it runs deeper than excellence at the individual (e.g. Strachan) or positional (defensive back) levels. This team just proved that it can locate a short-week opponent’s weaknesses, fire on all cylinders at those weaknesses, and not let off the gas the whole game. 

This game, paired with last week’s destruction of Clemens, has a chance to serve as the jumping-off point for an incredible run. In 2018, a players-only meeting set an 0-3 team on fire; they won five of their next six games and made the playoffs. And though this team isn’t a fringe postseason candidate … How about the top seed? A fluky loss to Wagner stands as their lone blemish, and the Thunderbirds just fell to New Braunfels, whom the Rangers host next week. If they can carry this momentum through their next two games, vs New Braunfels and at Judson, another respite awaits in the form of East Central. At that point the team would be 4-1 in district play, and the question would shift from, ‘Will they make the playoffs?’ to ‘Just how far can they go?’