Wildcats’ home opener eclipsed by Cougars 24-20

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BRAWLEY — The Brawley Union High School Wildcats hosted the Steel Canyon High School Cougars of Spring Valley at Warne Field Friday night to begin the 2017 football season. Steel Canyon, who has been floating in the elite Open Division and in Division I since the new format began in San Diego CIF Section, are now in Division II with the Wildcats.

The Cougars jumped to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter, but Brawley started hitting on all cylinders and eventually tied the game early in the second half at 14-14.

Unfortunately, field position would hurt the Wildcats after each kickoff following their scores. The Cougars’ defense held off a last minute drive by Brawley and persevered to a 24-20 victory.

Looking at the unofficial stats on the game, the Cougars edged the Wildcats 273-268 in total offensive yards. The Wildcats were on the positive side in rushing yards with 199-174 and first downs 17-16. The only turnover for each team came late in the game where a fumble by Steel Canyon gave Brawley one last chance for the win. The Wildcats’ only turnover, an interception, shut down all hopes of a home opening win.

The first quarter began with the Cougars winning the coin toss and electing to receive. Starting at their own 38-yard line, they quickly got a first down, but were limited to a five- play drive and punted. Brawley started their first possession of the season on their own 17- yard line.

Brawley fared better with a 13-play drive that included two first downs and consumed over seven minutes of the first quarter clock. A punt by the Wildcats gave the ball right back to the Cougars.

The Cougars began at their 18-yard line and used eight plays to go 82 yards for the first score of the game. Running back Deontae McKinney (20 carries for 82 yards) and quarterback Thomas Fishburne (13 carries, 42 yards, and 5 passes for 99 yards) did most of the damage and with :21 seconds left in the first quarter, the Cougars led 7-0 on a Fishburne nine-yard touchdown run and point after kick.

Steel Canyon’s defense forced a quick Wildcats possession of only four plays that started scoring drive number two at the 10:32 mark of the second quarter. Another drive, this one of ten plays, went for 72 yards. A 12-yard run by McKinney on a fourth down and one extended the lead to 14-0 with 7:17 left until the halftime break.

Damien Reyes sparked the Wildcats on a great kickoff return of 43 yards and had Brawley at midfield to start their first scoring drive of the 2017 season.

Quarterback Casey Kline (16 carries for 97 yards and four passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns) led an eight-play drive that included rushes by Nate Godinez (5 carries for 15 yards) and Michael Moreno (18 carries for 83).

Brawley’s first score came from the arm of Kline when he connected to a wide open Branden Gutierrez (four catches for two touchdowns) on a 20-yard touchdown. With 4:08 left until the half, Brawley was down 14-7 following the point after kick by Ivan Jauregui .

Great field position after the kickoff came again with a Cougar return to the Wildcats’ 39 yard line by Jordan Anderson. It was shortly celebrated as Brawley’s defense forced a quick turnover and a Steel Canyon punt. It was highlighted by a quarterback sack by Branden Gutierrez.

The Wildcats had the ball with 1:44 left on the clock and the opportunity to tie the game before the half. They began possession from their own two yard line, lasted four plays and gained one first down before the clock struck 0:00.
But Brawley evened the score at 14-14 on their first drive of the second half.

Starting at their 37 yard line, Wildcat Casey Kline ran for a huge chunk of real estate of 33 yards and guided the Wildcats on eight plays with the final play of a 5-yard touchdown run by Michael Moreno. With 7:58 left in the third quarter, the score was tied.

Another huge return and great field position looked to allow the Cougars a chance at regaining the lead. They started with the ball on the Wildcats’ 48 yard line, but the Brawley defense only allowed one first down on the drive and stuffed a fourth and five attempt at Brawley’s 30 yard line. Brawley would take over on downs and have the opportunity to take a lead in the game if they could score, but it did not happen as they were forced to punt before they could get any first downs.

The Cougars’ next drive ran five plays and moved the ball 39 yards on their next possession. A long pass from Fishburne to Randy Jordan of 36 yards ignited the offense, and once again Steel Canyon led 21-14.

Steel Canyon produced another quick Brawley possession and looked to extend its lead with the ball on their 45 yard line. Using over six minutes of the clock in the fourth quarter, they accomplished their scoring goal. A stingy Wildcat defense kept it to only a 32-yard field goal, and the Cougars led 24-14 with less than six minutes left in the game.

Brawley answered with an eight-play drive that started at the 26 yard line. Runs by Kline and Moreno lulled the Cougar defense to sleep, and once again, the Wildcats executed another huge pass to Branden Gutierrez for a 27-yard touchdown with 3:09 left in the game. The extra point was blocked and it was 24-20.

An onside kick attempt by the Wildcats failed to travel 10 yards on the ensuing kickoff and gave the Cougars the ball at Brawley’s 47 yard line. The Wildcats’ defense once again held off a game-ending first down when it produced the first turnover of the game. A fumble by the Cougars on what could have sealed the win for Steel Canyon was recovered by Nate Godinez at the Wildcats’ 11 yard line.

Brawley’s final drive began with 1:08 on the clock and no timeouts to stop the clock. Two passes netted 32 yards. One was a 17-yard strike to Gutierrez and the other was a 15-yard pass interference by a Cougar defender. All hopes of a Wildcat victory ended with an interception by the Cougars’ Alexander Atherton.

The Wildcats will have a “bye” and not play next week. They look to regroup and then play three games in Arizona. Their next opponents are the Yuma High School Criminals followed by the Cibola High Raiders and Gila Ridge High Hawks.