SUTTER CREEK – It has been said that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. If that’s the case, Calaveras High School has a defense that could help bring the Mother Lode League title back to San Andreas for the first time since 2013.
The Amador Buffaloes were scoring an average of 42.6 points per game. Amador had only allowed 6.83 points per game. Amador had won six in a row. But none of that meant anything Friday night.
Calaveras went into hostile territory and held the prolific Amador offense to just 10 points and shut out the Buffaloes in the final 24 minutes to capture a 17-10 road victory Friday night in Sutter Creek.
“This couldn’t feel any better,” senior quarterback/cornerback Nolan Dart said following the 7-point win. “Going into this game, people were saying that Amador is 6-0 and the press shouldn't even come here because it won’t be a good game. We knew that we could beat them, but we wanted to prove everybody else wrong. That makes it feel so much better.”
The Calaveras players and coaches knew that if winning a league title was going to be in the cards, a win over undefeated Amador was a necessity. For Calaveras junior Donivan Giangregorio, he knew from the moment he stepped on the field that his team would not be denied a victory.
“I love these guys, but screw them, I want the league title,” Giangregorio said about his thoughts heading into Friday’s clash against Amador.
The night couldn't have started any better for Calaveras, as its defense held Amador to a three-and-out to begin the game. On its first possession of the night, Calaveras pounded the ball and following a 25-yard run by senior Jonny Lozano, Calaveras had possession on the Amador 13.
Calaveras reached the Buffalo 3-yard line, but was facing a fourth-and-goal. Sophomore Jake Hopper’s number was called and he followed the block of junior running back Clayton Moore and plunged across the goal line for the first score of the night. Senior kicker Andrew Celli added the PAT and Calaveras led 7-0 with 5:01 to play in the opening quarter.
“That score shut them up,” Giangregorio said of striking first. “They were surprised.”
As well as Calaveras moved the ball on the opening drive, that would be the final points the visitors got the remainder of the half. Amador was able to move the ball through the air, but Calaveras’ defense had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality.
Amador got into the red zone, but with 9:19 left in the second quarter, settled for a 22-yard field goal to cut Calaveras’ lead to 7-3.
After a Calaveras punt, Amador took over on its own 13. The drive looked as if it would be a short one as Giangregorio blasted past the offensive line from his linebacker position and recorded a sack for an 8-yard loss. However, a late hit was called on a Calaveras player, which gave Amador some breathing room following the sack.
With the help of more Calaveras penalties, Amador continued to move the ball through the air and rumbled all the way to the Calaveras 1-yard line. A short touchdown gave Amador its first lead of the night with 34 seconds to play in the half.
Even though Calaveras was outscored 10-0 in the second quarter and trailed by three, Giangregorio never let go of the idea of victory.
“We still knew we were going to win the game,” Giangregorio said about his halftime thoughts.
While Giangregorio was confident, head coach Dough Clark had some questions for his defense, most notably, his secondary. Amador had thrown for 103 yards in the first half and didn’t seem to have any issues connecting on short passes.
“We had an honest conversation at half time about their receivers,” Clark said. “Can we run with them? When my guys gave me the nod that we could run with them, then it was time to tighten up and make them beat us long if they are going to beat us, because they were tearing us up underneath.”
Clark didn’t have to wait long for his defense to return to the field in the second half. On the second play from scrimmage, Moore broke free for a 63-yard touchdown to once again give Calaveras the lead with 11:10 to play in the third quarter.
“I had two phenomenal blocks from G (Giangregorio) and (Caden) Villegas and all I had to do was run to the right, throw a stiff arm and head to the house,” Moore said about his run that gave Calaveras a 14-7 lead.
Following the Moore touchdown run, Amador methodically moved the ball. After five minutes, Amador had possession on the Calaveras 17, but were looking at a fourth-and-2. Amador went to the air and a quick slant was open. But at the last second, Dart reached his left hand around the intended receiver and swatted the ball away moments before it would have been completed. The strong defensive play from Dart gave Calaveras the ball on downs.
“We were man-to-man and that’s what we were coached to do,” Dart said. “Hard work and good coaching pays off.”
With the ball on its own 17, Calaveras went on a drive that started with 5:23 to play in the third quarter and ended with 8:31 remaining in the fourth. On the drive, Dart connected with senior tight end Zeke Martinez for a 29-yard completion, which brought the ball to the Amador 5-yard line.
With the ball inside the Amador 5, Calaveras ran four consecutive plays and was unable to get into the end zone. A fourth-and-goal run from the 3-yard line was stopped short and Amador took over on its own two following the strong defensive stand.
“We felt that we could get three yards,” Clark said of why he didn’t opt to go for a field goal.
With their backs against their own goal line, the Buffaloes could not get a first down and punted the ball back to Calaveras with 6:18 to play. Calaveras had great field position on the Amador 30, but the drive stalled and Calaveras needed to convert on fourth down. For the third time in the game, Dart dropped back to pass, but instead of throwing, the senior trusted his legs and picked up the first down with a 16-yard run.
For the second time in the fourth quarter, Calaveras got inside the Amador 10, but couldn't reach the end zone. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the nine, Clark called for Celli to attempt a 26-yard field goal. With the ball on the right hash, Celli booted a perfect kick that split the uprights and gave Calaveras a 17-10 lead with 1:44 to play.
“It was just like in practice,” Celli said. “I trusted my line, I was comfortable and everything was beautiful.”
With a seven-point lead, Calaveras’ defense had to make one final stop. Amador completed one pass and reached its own 44, but the game was put away as Dart intercepted a pass to give Calaveras the win.
In the second half, Calaveras’ defense allowed 52 yards passing, 40 yards rushing and no points. Amador finished the night with only 92 yards rushing and were held to just 3.28 yards per attempt.
“I was hoping that it was going to be a close game,” Clark said. “Our defense has been playing pretty darn good coming into tonight. We knew that we could compete with Amador and slow their offense down. So, hats off to our defense. Giving up zero in the second half is exceptional.”
Moore finished the night with 133 yards rushing and one touchdown. As a team, Calaveras rushed for 224 yards on 46 attempts for an average of 4.86 yards per carry.
“They expected some of what we brought, but we just had way more than they thought,” Moore said.
With the win, Calaveras (5-2, 2-0 Mother Lode League) is still on the right track to win the Mother Lode League title. Although there are still three league games remaining on the schedule, there’s no debate that next Friday’s clash with Sonora will be for the championship. Sonora and Calaveras are both 2-0 in league and the winner will be the only undefeated league team remaining.
With so much on the line the next time Calaveras takes the field, Giangregorio isn’t allowing himself to think of it as anything more than just another night at the office.
“We are just going to go out there and play another football game,” he said.
Calaveras’ JV team picked up its second Mother Lode League victory with a 28-20 win over Amador Friday night in Sutter Creek.