– In a matchup featuring the Santa Rosa Bear Cubs’ top-ranked
passing offense and the Gavilan Rams’ top-ranked defense, something
had to give.
Santa Rosa – In a matchup featuring the Santa Rosa Bear Cubs’ top-ranked passing offense and the Gavilan Rams’ top-ranked defense, something had to give. Unfortunately for Gavilan, it was their side that did the giving, surrendering 32 points in the first half and eight turvovers overall in a 46-10 Clo Bowl loss to Santa Rosa Junior College Saturday afternoon.
“Sometimes one team is just better,” said Rams coach John Lango. “We made a ton of mistakes that cost us, but you know, our kids played their hearts out for the whole game.”
Gavilan’s defense, ranked tops in California going into the game, did live up to that billing in stopping the run. The Rams gave up just 91 yards on the ground to the Bear Cubs, about a third of that on a single play – a fake punt in the first half – and most of the rest on a couple of tricky draw plays late in the game when it was out of reach.
But the Rams were terribly exposed in the passing game, the Cubs’ specialty and the engine that drove them to a 7-4 record against tough opposition. Santa Rosa racked up 303 passing yards with sophomore starting quarterback Kevin Ballatore accounting for 215 yards and three touchdown passes, while freshman backup Ian Hetrick had another two TD throws.
The beneficiary of all that generosity in the end zone was Clo Bowl MVP Kyle Sammons. The sophomore All-American from Novato High caught four touchdown passes and had another score on a five-yard reverse to punctuate his seven catches for 194 yards on the day.
A bruising Bear Cubs offensive line – averaging roughly 6-4, 315 – gave Ballatore and Hetrick plenty of time to let Sammons and Co. beat an overworked Rams secondary caught flatfooted on too many ocassions. One sequence early in the second half summed up Gavilan’s day – flashes of great play but an inability to string them together.
On Santa Rosa’s first drive of the half, with the Bear Cubs threatening deep in Rams territory, Gavilan’s Albert Ramirez (Live Oak High) absolutely paneled wideout Eric Wolseth for no gain on a little screen pass. On the next play, Rams’ Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Shutts (San Benito High) had a pretty breakup of a pass intended for Sammons.
But on the ensuing play, with Gavilan pulling it together and finally getting some pressure on Hetrick, they were hit with a personal foul penalty for a late hit on the quarterback. Half the distance to the goal, a flailing Bear Cub drive given new life and within moments Sammons’ fourth TD catch of the afternoon made it 38-3.
On offense, it was more of the same for the Rams. The team entered the Clo Bowl with a turnover differential of -15 and the eight balls they gave up to Santa Rosa didn’t help that number. “If there’s one glaring thing we really have to work on,” said Lango, “It’s our turnovers.”
Indeed, promising drives in the second half that could have made the score a bit more respectable were halted by turnovers. There was the Chris Kirkwood interception of Rams quarterback Will Kilday in Bear Cubs territory, and Kilday’s fifth pick of the day midway through the fourth quarter, immediately following an unlikely but welcome interception by big Roy Sims out of San Benito. A force at defensive tackle throughout the game, Sims had a pair of sacks and what might have been the hit of the game, a piledriving stuff of running back Philip Batlin on an attempt up the middle for a loss of five yards.
Batlin was also the unfortunate recipient of another contender for hit of the game, by freshman linebacker Bradley Niles out of Piedmont Hills High. On a rightside plunge during Gavilan’s best defensive stand of the game in the fourth, Niles exploded in to lay a vicious lick on Batlin, popping off the freshman’s helmet and sending it rolling. A play later, defensive end Nate Whyms, out of Santa Teresa High, and Sims combined for a sack of Bear Cubs third-stringer Chris Lampkin. Sims’ interception, his first of the season, followed on the next play.
Meanwhile, El Ray Henry was named Offensive Player of the Game by the Clo Bowl committee. The sophomore tailback out of Yerba Buena collected 150 yards on 24 carries, including a 49-yard scoring run in the third quarter for the Rams’ only touchdown of the game. Diving off left tackle on one of Gavilan’s few snaps past midfield in the game, Henry broke a pair of tackles before angling back towards the right corner, juking another Bear Cub out of position and then turning on the overdrive to scamper across the right goal line standing up.
At Sunday’s banquet, Henry was named Offensive Player of the Year for the 6-5 Rams, joining MVP Sims and Defensive Player of the Year Shutts. Sophomore LB/DB Kyle Costa (Gilroy High) won the Pat Knudsen Award, while sophomore OL Clay Peer (San Benito High) was named the Bud Ottmar Award winner. Sims is looking at Washburn State and Minnesota State as future possibilities, according to Lango. Another sophomore, free safety T.J. Monroe, has Washington interested, but the coach stressed that nothing is settled regarding his graduating players’ next destinations.
For his part, Lango said he won’t be taking a break after what he described as an enjoyable Clo Bowl experience.
“It was a really great time for the kids,” he said. “The Clo Bowl people really outdid themselves. They put us up, fed us and put on a really great game.
“But there’s no time to relax now. We’ll be recruiting heavily to fit new pieces into the program, and we’ll go from there.”
Asked about the Rams’ passing game, exposed as overmatched both on offense and defense, Lango said: “After a game like this, you always have to reassess what’s missing. The good news is that, luckily for us, the local (high school) teams are excellent.
“We’ll be down at Gilroy High talking to some of their players (Tuesday),” he added. “We wanted to let Hollister finish up their season (which ended with a 24-20 loss to Oak Grove in the CCS title game Saturday) before we dropped by, but we’ll be recruiting there and also at Live Oak, which had a great season, too.
“We only had three out-of-state players this year. We like keeping it local.”