by Joseph W. Gex II
The Saint Stanislaus Rock-A-Chaws (1-0) kicked off their 2021 season on a winning note with a 35-25 victory over the Long Beach Bearcats (0-1) at Lance Lumpkin Stadium Friday night.
This was the 40th meeting between the two squads and with the SSC victory the series is now tied at 20-20.
It was a slow start for both squads but on the third possession, the Rocks’ Kyle Stegall woke up the Bearcats with a punishing 24-yard run followed by Davien Lagarde’s slasher for 13 yards. Three plays later, Alex Fabra found Canye Bankston for a 30-yard scoring toss with 3:35 left in the first quarter. Freshman Even Noel split the uprights on the PAT making the score 7-0.
The Bearcats made a valiant effort at answering with a six-yard toss from Charlie Starita to Junior Kozlowski but a negative play by Edjuan Trautman did not help matters forcing Long Beach to punt.
Two possessions later, Fabra found Bankston again for a 43-yard scoring toss that took just 13 seconds off the clock. Noel made the score 14-0 with the PAT.
After a strong defensive stand led by Joe and Jacob Bradford and Spencer Cornell, the Rocks forced the Bearcats into a three-and-out for third consecutive possession.
Big gains by Lagarde and Stegall were nullified by penalties and the Rocks tossed an interception secured by Brandon Davis that was returned to the SSC 30 yard line. However, Long Beach fumbled the ball back to SSC on the return which gave new life to the Rocks.
Lagarde ripped off a 45-yard run followed by Stegall with a 12-yard gain. Two plays later, Fabra hit Ja’Kobe Cameron with a 15-yard scoring aerial with 2:37 left before halftime. Noel converted on the PAT for a 21-0 lead.
Long Beach answered the call on the ensuing possession with a big 41-yard gain from Charlie Starita to Anaru Jones. Two plays later, Colt Busby scored from one-yard out with 1:16 left in the first half. The PAT by Ashton Rupert was good making the score 21-7.
The Rocks had one more shot before intermission and Stegall took advantage of it with a bruising run down the Bearcat sideline for a 64-yard score with 17 seconds left before halftime. Noel’s PAT made the score 28-7.
It was a tale of two halves for SSC, though. As smooth as they looked in the first half, cramps and execution woes hurt them in the second half and allowed the Bearcats to come close.
After a strong defensive showing by SSC on the first possession of the second half, Long Beach pinned the Rocks at their own 12 yard line on a punt by Kozlowski.
The Rocks went on a 13-play drive that took off over nine minutes on the clock but they came up empty on the board.
Consecutive drives with turnovers by both teams occurred before Lagarde was able to add to the Rocks’ total with a 12-yard scoring run with 9:34 left in the game. Noel converted on the PAT to make the score 35-7.
On the ensuing possession, Zamaroius McNickels ripped off a 38-yard run down the middle of the Rock defense that allowed Busby to score from 11 yards out on the next play with 7:01 left in the game. The PAT missed leaving the score 35-13.
On the first play of the following possession, Jones picked a fumble and returned it 25 yards for a Bearcat touchdown with 6:39 left in the game. The two-point conversion failed leaving the score 35-19.
After stuffing SSC on the next possession, the Bearcats had their best drive of the game. Busby commanded an 11-play drive highlighted by McNickels own 33-yard carry before he finished it off with a two-yard scoring run with 29 seconds left to play. The two-point conversion was no good leaving the final score 35-25.
SSC head coach Nate Encrapera commented, “There are things we can be proud of tonight and things we are not proud of. The problems of cramping we had tonight can be solved before the next game. However, we have to do a better job of execution in several areas. Yes, it is the first game of the year but there are things that we must be doing better. Simple things like lining up properly, special teams execution, etc. That is on us as coaches and we have to do much better. There is a different animal coming to our stadium next week and we cannot afford those breakdowns next week. We are 0-0 on Sunday and we will get back to work.”
The Rocks were led by Fabra who threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 16-for-30 passing. Stegall rushed for 118 yards and a score on 13 carries while Lagarde added 114 yards a day a touchdown on 14 carries. Bankston had two catches for 73 yards and two scores and Cameron added five catches for 49 yards and a score.
Second-year Long Beach head coach Ryan Ross stated, “St. Stanislaus is always well coached with a good football team. For us, it was a lot of missed tackles and other problems. Hopefully over time, we can get that corrected. It was not so much schemes, but basic blocking and tackling. We mixed some coverage up defensively and when they started getting the running game going, we had to take some chances and started going man to man coverage. We had some breaks and a couple of scores, but we finally started getting to who we were supposed to assignment wise and Colt did a good job of elongating plays.”
The Bearcats were led by Starita with 58 yards passing and Busby tossing for 19 yards. McNickels ran for 60 yards on Sox carries with one touchdown followed by Busby with 46 yards rushing with two scores. Jones had three receptions for 52 yards and Kozlowski had two for 14 yards.
The Rocks host Pensacola Catholic ‘between the walls’ tonight while the Bearcats travel to Bay High.
(Hunter Dawkins, Publisher contributed to the article)