Wildcats Lose Season Opener in El Cajon

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EL CAJON – The 2016 Brawley Union High School Wildcat Varsity football team opened the season on a rare Saturday evening in El Cajon against the hosting Christian High School Patriots. The game was the fourth matchup since the Wildcats entered the San Diego CIF Section. Christian held a 2-1 record over Brawley, but they hosted their lone loss to the Wildcats on the same field in 2011.

This Patriots team of 2016 would have different results as they used big strikes and ball control for a 42-21 victory over the traveling Wildcats.

Brawley opened up the game kicking to the Patriots, who began with good field possession on their own 34-yard line. It was much better than last year’s opening kickoff which was returned for 99 yards beginning their 2015 match up in Brawley. Christian succeeded in getting a first down in six plays, but when Wildcats’ George Mickle intercepted an errant pass by Junior Bradley Jeremiah (14 completions on 18 attempts for 134 yards) he would give Brawley a 7-0 lead with 9:09 left in the first quarter.

Christian began drive two on their 20-yard line after the Wildcats kicked to a shortened field resulting from a 15-yard penalty on the point after the touchdown attempt. All appeared to be going Brawley’s way- until play three of the Patriots’ drive where a trick double pass and a 70-yard-run scored with 8:40 left in the first. Point after kicks were perfect for both teams in the game and the score was knotted at 7-7.

Brawley finally had their chance at offense with senior quarterback AJ Grijalva at the helm, but the Christian Patriots’ defense prevented the Wildcats from gaining any momentum or any first downs in their first three drives, all in the first quarter. The Wildcats punted after a three-and-out where the Patriots started drive three on their own 41 yard line.

Christian took its first lead of the season on a five-play drive of 59 yards. Senior Joey Morones powered his way with 37 of his 63 yards for the game on 15 carries. The scoring play was from three yards out and the Patriots led 14-7 with 6:01 left in the first quarter.

Patriots increased its lead to 21-7 on a four-play drive after another Wildcat punt. This drive of 55 yards included two runs and two passes, one of which was a touchdown pass of 11 yards to their huge tight-end Garret Nielsen with the clock showing 1:51 in the first quarter.
Brawley fared no better on offense and was forced to punt once again. The Patriots built its biggest lead of the game by moving 75 yards on 13 plays. A costly five yard penalty by the Wildcats on a third and four aided the Christian offense as they continued to pile up their 366 yards of total offense for the night. With 5:34 left till halftime, the lead went to 28-7 on a nine yard touchdown run by Tshombre Carter.
Trailing by three touchdowns and not having an offensive first down, the Wildcats needed a spark. They got more than that when Austyn Gutierrez (15 carries for 145 yards) got over half of his total on the second play of their next drive. It was an electrifying 79-yard dash as he raced untouched, taking it to the bank for six points. It was now 28-14 with 4:47 left until halftime.

The touchdown run brought life, not only to the offense for the rest of the game, but seemed to have inspired the defense as it forced a three and out, forcing the Patriots to punt. On Brawley’s next possession, the offense got their first first down of the game and a ten-play drive that began at their 24 yard line.

Thoughts of trailing by only one touchdown going into halftime and receiving the ball first after the intermission were huge, especially with the offense struggling most of the first two quarters. Unfortunately, after some success moving the ball, their drive stalled at the Wildcats’ 45 yard line.

The second half was a completely different game from the first. The Wildcats opened up with an 11 play scoring drive. Gutierrez had seven carries and George Mickle had two, but with the defense concentrating on both of them, AJ Grijalva went the last six yards for a score on a quarterback keeper. The score was now 28-21 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats next kickoff was booted out of bounds which resulted in a penalty. Patriots, on a rare decision to have the ball on their 35 yard line elected to have the Brawley kick again from the Wildcat 35 yard line. This paid off tremendously for Christian as the kickoff was returned 88 yards to paydirt. In an instant, the Wildcats trailed 35-21 only 14 seconds after they had just scored.
The next offensive drive for Brawley began at their 28-yard line. They moved the ball for a first down, but it stalled after six plays and the Wildcats were forced to punt. A 43-yard punt by Mickle pinned the Patriots at their own 16-yard line with 3:36 left in the third quarter.

Christian was forced to punt on this drive of only six plays but the drive was extended after a roughing the kicker was called on the Wildcats. The Patriots then used up the remaining time of the third quarter, taking it to 2:05 left in the game. The drive ended with 22 total plays and increased the lead for Christian to 42-21 for the final score.

The Wildcats will now travel to Valley Center next Friday to take on the Jaguars of Valley Center High School. The Jaguars were shutout 35-0 in their season opener to Mater Dei High School. Both teams will have a huge appetite for a win next week to prevent themselves from starting off the season with an 0-2 record. It will be interesting as the Wildcats have never beaten the Jaguars in Valley Center. Could this 2016 team be the first?

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