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Smiles upon smiles were abound at Justin-Siena.
In its first game in 16 months, the Justin-Siena Braves (1-0) shined defensively, forcing three turnovers and consistently getting to the backfield en route to a season-opening 7-0 victory over the Petaluma Trojans (0-1) on Friday night in Napa.
The win came after Justin-Siena won eight games and appeared in the North Coast Section Division VI semifinals last season.
“It was a good defensive performance,” said Justin-Siena head coach Brandon LaRocco. “That’s a tough run game to start with, and they’ve got some hard runners, and their quarterback is a good runner, so I’m proud of the way they stuck with it. They hit us with some early dives. We were able to clamp up and make plays. That’s what matters.”
Although Petaluma’s ground and pound style was difficult to stop at times, Justin-Siena’s defense never wavered and came away with some of the biggest plays of the game.
Three turnovers. Ten tackles for loss. Six sacks.
On top of that was a critical forced fumble inside the red zone at the 10-yard line in the second quarter on a play that ended up determine the ballgame.
“It was great,” LaRocco said. “We called a max stunt on that forced fumble. I think it was fourth or third down. I can’t remember what it was in the red zone there. Great plat. (Joshua) Tichy came hard on that B gap and we were able to pop that ball out. I can’t remember who recovered. I think it was Giancarlo Guerrero, but good play.”
That play gave Justin-Siena just the momentum it needed.
Big play after big play came for the Braves offense following that turnover, as they drove 90 yards and capped the possession off with an 8-yard touchdown run from senior Noah Young – fresh off a team-high 628 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in addition to 315 receiving yards in 2019 – to put them up 7-0 with 5:06 remaining in the first half.
Also included on that drive was a critical third-and-16 conversion.
“That played a lot of momentum for sure,” said Justin-Siena senior quarterback Hudson Beers. “We just took that and tried to carry it for the rest of the game. We made some mistakes, but mistakes happen, and we just tried to carry that momentum the rest of the game.”
And LaRocco and company were pleased with the offensive performance and its resilience, particularly after more than a year and ample time to prepare for the spring football season.
Beers, after an early interception, finished with 163 passing yards, coming after a dominant junior campaign when he was one of California’s top passers, tossing for 2,942 yards and 30 scores.
“Hudson is pretty unshakeable,” LaRocco said. “He just goes with the flow. He’s very cool under pressure. I don’t think he lets it rattle him. He’s going to go back and shoot next time. He’s a slinger.”
Five different Braves caught at least two passes, led by junior Caden Parlett’s 54 yards on two catches. Behind Parlett was Seth Morrison’s 37 yards, Joshua Tichy’s 27 yards, Miles Martin’s 26 yards and Young’s 19 yards.
Three Justin-Siena plays went for more than 20 yards, and it is expecting even more going forward as it continues to gain more chemistry in a unit that produced more than 30 points per game in 2019.
“And especially losing all the 7 on 7s and all that stuff, we tried to push through it, but it matters,” LaRocco said. “Offense and a passing game like ours – timing is important. We’ll get there. We still hit them for a couple of big plays. We’ve just got to finish. That’s what it comes down to.”
“I think our defense played their tails off,” Beers said. “They definitely carried us today. It was a little sloppy offensively, but all good offenses start off a little slow to start the season, so we’ll work on it and get better next week.”
LaRocco hopes to see more growth from Justin-Siena ahead of its 7 p.m. matchup March 19 at Sonoma.
“Want to tighten up a little bit,” LaRocco said. “We had a fair amount of mental mistakes, so I want to make sure we tighten those up. And it’s expected with the short prep time, but we want to tighten all that stuff up and minimize the mistakes that we’re putting ourselves in.”
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