By Harold Abend

 

PETALUMA, Calif. – Clinging to a 6-3 lead in a first half dominated by the defense of both teams, visiting Casa Grande turned up the heat on both sides of the ball in the final two quarters and turned what looked like it would be a grind it out affair into an easy win. 

“At halftime I thought it was going to be a squeaker like last year,” Casa Grande head coach John Antonio remarked. “We just weren’t effective on offense in the first half but we cleaned it up.”  

The visitors from the east side of Petaluma scored 22-unanswered points and the defense held host Petaluma, the west side representative, scoreless. The result was a 28-3 Saturday afternoon victory in the annual Egg Bowl for the bragging rights to the city of Petaluma that in the past was called the “chicken capitol of the world.” 

It was the third straight Egg Bowl win for Casa Grande but it was a lot different than last year when the Gauchos won at home 29-28 in the waning moments on a trick play. However, early on it was looking anything like the 2021 match-up when Casa Grande won on the west side of Highway 101 in a 57-35 scoreboard lighter upper. 

The win was the eighth straight since a season opening 27-13 loss at Cardinal Newman and give Casa Grande (8-1, 5-0) sole possession of first place in the Vine Valley Athletic League with one game remaining on the road in Sonoma Valley where the Gauchos will be a solid favorite. 

The aforementioned Casa Grande defense gave up a 12-play drive after fumbling on its opening possession, but they forced a field goal by Petaluma senior Asher Levy at the 4:39 mark of the first quarter, and from there no Trojans drive was more than seven plays. After halftime they could muster only three first downs. 

The Petaluma rushing attack that came into the contest averaging 321.7 yards per game was held to 103 yards with a mere 37 coming in the second half. 

At this point of the season the Casa defense has only given up 55 points in five VVAL games and 114 in all nine games.

“Our defense plays relentless, they play hard and they play physical,” Antonio said. “That’s what we want out of them.”

With respect to the passing game Petaluma only accounted for 37 yards on two completions, and Casa Grande sacked Trojans junior quarterback Ryan Landry six times for minus-36 yards, and they forced a turnover on a fumble that was recovered by senior Oscar Koene, who also had 2.5 sacks. 

On offense Casa Grande got a very solid performance from quarterback Danny Mercado. The 5-11, 180-pound junior was 17-of-25 for 223 yards and one touchdown, a 42-yarder to senior wide receiver Clint Rea that made it 20-3 with 2:04 left in the third quarter that pretty much slammed the door on the hosts. Mercado also passed for a 2-point conversion and ran for 73 yards. About the only negative to his outing was an interception. 

Other major contributors for Casa Grande were senior running backs Zach Herrera and Cade Rea. Herrera was the workhorse with 18 carries for 93 yards and one TD that put the Gauchos ahead for good at 6-3 in the late first quarter. Cade Rea did have a fumble in the red zone, but after Casa Grande got a three-and-out and forced a punt, he took a reverse pitch from Mercado on the very first play of the ensuing possession and raced 47-yard to the house to give the Gauchos a 13-7 lead midway through the third quarter. He also had a sack on defense. Junior running back Marco Novo came on late and had 32 yards rushing and he registered the game’s final tallies on a 9-yard TD run and a run for a 2-point conversion. 

For his part Mercado wanted to credit his defense.

“Our defense played phenomenal. They couldn’t run on us all day,” Mercado said. “It was a rough first quarter for the offense, bad first half actually. We just didn’t execute.”

Like many of the Casa Grande players and coaches echoed after the game they would relish the opportunity to get another shot at Cardinal Newman in the CIF North Coast Section Division III playoffs.

“One hundred percent, we’re really looking forward to that game,” said Mercado about the prospects of facing Newman again if that’s how the seedings work out. “We have to take it step by step, week by week, and play our hardest. I believe in this team.”

Petaluma (6-3, 4-1) is going to have to re-group and get ready for Vintage on the road in Napa to close out league. To beat Vintage (4-5, 3-2) the Trojans are going to need to score points and play better defense. Three of Vintage’s losses are 28-22 at Casa Grande, 30-27 at Cardinal Newman, and 34-22 to 8-1 Las Lomas-Walnut Creek. 

After Vintage the Trojans will see where they land in the NCS Division IV playoffs that includes an Acalanes-Lafayette team that just handed Las Lomas its lone loss in a 34-14 win. 

Even with a win next week at Sonoma Valley, Antonio knows that the next few weeks are going to be a grind if Casa Grande is going to make a playoff run.     

“We know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Antonio in conclusion. “But it’s three straight for us right now and we’re going to celebrate.”

For now Casa Grande has all the eggs in the basket.