It was undeniable that the Valley Center Jaguars were scuffling somewhat, having lost two of their first three games of the new season. One sensed they could use a bit of a lift, a proverbial shot in the arm.
Well, Jake Newman gladly supplied the hypo in the Jags’ much-needed 37- 21 victory over visiting Imperial High last Friday night.
In a tour de force performance in which he seemed to be all over the field, the senior running back/linebacker was the rock of the offense and a key catalyst on defense. Not only did the 175-pounder rush for a hefty 171 yards and score on a pair of big-time runs, but he also delivered a passel of tackles and provided tight pass coverage. Though the Jags, now 2-2 on the season, had plenty of others who made significant contributions on this evening, Newman was clearly the centerpiece of the win. Much of VC’s success emanated from him.
This was a contest that VC desperately wanted and in a way, had to have. The thought of what might have been was definitely gnawing at the Jags. Having already dropped a pair of winnable games early in the season, another setback at this stage might have easily damaged VC’s psyche. Moreover, the Jags were trying to avoid a third consecutive loss at home, a rather ignominious possibility. Since a quirk in the schedule doesn’t have them playing in Valley Center again until October 30, the Jags wanted to reestablish themselves on their home turf and provide local fans with a feel good vibe that only victory can bring.
In large part, they accomplished each of those goals because Newman was able to recapture the form that made him VC’s leading ground gainer last year. The beginning of the current season had been a source of frustration for Newman. Waiting for a broken bone in his foot to heal, Jake was forced to bide his time on the sideline until VC’s third game versus Ramona. And though Newman didn’t have much to show for his night against the Bulldogs, the fact remained he had returned to the fray. More to the point, he seemed to be moving well and cutting freely. One sensed that Newman was ready to reemerge. And boy, did he ever!
Though Newman got plenty of carries in the game’s first 24 minutes, it wasn’t until the second half that he really exerted his influence. It was then that Jake became “The Snake.”
At intermission, the Jags held a slight 3-0 lead. Though the first half couldn’t exactly be classified as pedestrian (it did have some moments), scoring was held to a bare minimum. And at that stage, it looked as if the Jags were once again destined to go down to the wire with an opponent. Another nail-biter seemed a distinct possibility.
Rodrigo Rodriquez, who’s got plenty of pop in his leg, got the Jags on the board when he drilled a 26-yard field goal with 3:18 left in the first quarter. Rodriquez’s boot was primarily set-up by four nifty Newman rushes that netted 29 yards.
VC’s defense kept Imperial (0-4) off the board in the first half with a solid effort that featured two four-and-outs and a stout goal-line stand. Eschewing a chip shot field goal attempt, the visiting Tigers elected to put the Jag defenders to the ultimate test on a fourthand goal situation from the 1. But to no avail. Tiger back Brandon Hueso vainly tried to power his way off right guard but was absolutely stuffed by a host of VC tacklers. Hueso appeared as if he’d been swallowed up by a sea of black jerseys. He literally seemed to evaporate.
And as they had the week before against Ramona, the Jags were about to go on another remarkable third-quarter scoring blitz. Incredibly, it would take VC a mere three minutes and four seconds to produce 27 points. This wasn’t so much football as it was a video game. It was a wonder the scoreboard didn’t malfunction due to overload.
It was Nieko Hernandez, the Jags’ most dangerous playmaker, who got things rolling. Gathering in a bouncing Tiger punt near his own 46-yard line, at first glance it looked like the senior speedster was hemmed inalong the right sideline, But elusive as ever, Hernandez wiggled free, made a deft move to his left and cut across the field, leaving numerous Tiger pursuers in his wake. It wasn’t until the 5-11, 165-pounder had scooted down the far sideline and reached the 7 before he was finally pushed out of bounds. Once more, Hernandez had provided a spark.
Three plays later, Andrew Navarro, following a huge push from the right side of the offensive line, powered in from the 1. A successful Rodriquez PAT extended the Jags’ lead to 10-0 at the 9:43 mark.
But on a night when the Jags showed lots of good, they were also plagued by some disconcerting breakdowns. Immediately following a Rodriquez touchback kick, Tiger quarterback Aaron Bonillas dumped off a pass to the appropriately named David Savage, a player who would torment the Jags on multiple occasions before the night was done. The well-built Tiger burst through a sizeable hole, veered toward open space and then put on the afterburners before outracing the pursuit for a stunning 80-yard touchdown. Just 13 seconds after Navarro’s tally, the Tigers had closed the gap to 10-7.
But the Jags were to about to prove they could be immediate responders as well. On the second play from scrimmage following Savage’s heroics, VC struck with lethal suddenness. Quarterback Rhett Reilly planted himself and rifled a throw to Steven Much. The senior tight end reached up and made a fine grab. He then spun, created some separation and hustled his way down the right sideline. Showing surprising speed for someone of his sizeable frame, Much nimbly stepped out of a last-ditch tackle attempt before completing a 79-yard TD catch-and- run. The Jags had answered in a most emphatic way. Despite a blocked PAT, VC’s advantage had grown to 16-7.
On Imperial’s ensuing possession, VC’s defense flexed its muscles once more by forcing a fumble. The Jags quickly capitalized. Newman started things off with a spinning, twisting beauty of a run that gained 16 yards. From the 5-yard line, Navarro reprised his role of doing the honors. In what was a case of déjà vu of his previous score, Navarro again benefitted from his mates upfront who opened up a gaping hole. Navarro cruised into the end zone, virtually untouched. Another Rodriquez PAT put the Jags’ margin at 23-7 with 8:30 still left in the third stanza.
Feeding off the team’s momentum, the VC defense continued to stand tall and quickly forced a Tiger punt. After a pair of costly Imperial penalties positioned the Jags at the visitors’ 32- yard line, it was time for another dose of Newman. Sweeping to his left and getting to the perimeter rapidly, the quick-footed “Snake” slithered past the overwhelmed Tigers. After utilizing a marvelous spin move, Newman then cut back adroitly and soon found paydirt. With the count now rising to 30-7, the outcome of this contest was as good as in the barn.
And yet, the Tigers weren’t without both heart and gumption. Imperial parlayed three Bonillas completions and a Hueso scoring plunge to make things more respectable at 30- 13, roughly midway through the final quarter.
But the Jags didn’t bat an eye because they knew that their workhorse Newman was in a zone. By this time, the proceedings had become Jake’s show, with notable assistance from his big boy escorts who were paving the way. VC’s vaunted running game had demonstrably taken over and had worn the fatiguing Tiger defenders down to the nub. The visitors had little resistance left. All that remained was for Newman to deliver the coup de grace. The dagger was about to be applied.
What was both scary and disheartening for the Imperial defense was that after a massive workload, Newman showed no signs of slowing down. He still appeared fresh and ready to go. An Energizer Bunny in pads and cleats. For a final time, Newman hoisted the Jag offense on his shoulders and carried them to the Promised Land. On a six-play sortie, Jake toted the rock five more times. The punctuation mark came from the 24-yard line when Newman shot up the gut, shook loose of a couple of defenders and didn’t stop until he had struck gold fora second time. With 5:37 left in the contest, having staked their team to a huge 37-13 lead, Newman and the rest of the offense were at last done. The race had been run and won!
Though it was basically windowdressing, Imperial’s final score must be acknowledged because it was so scintillating. The ever-dangerous Savage hauled in a Rodriquez kickoff at his own 8-yard line and proceeded to take it all the way to the house. It was another breathtaking sprint by Savage. After finding ample space up the middle, he smoothly weaved his way to the right sideline where he had no difficulty in distancing himself from the pack. Coupled with his earlier long-distance run of 80 yards, Savage had amassed an astounding 172 yards on just two plays. This was throughthe roof stuff.
As the clock clicked down on their 37-21 triumph, the Jags didn’t have to look hard to find plenty of positives. Newman was a two-way stud. The Oline, spearheaded by a dominant performance by Jake Glennie, constantly carved out gaps, holes and cavities that the VC runners couldn’t help but exploit. Tight end Much, an undeniable talent, reasserted himself as a factor with a couple of timely catches after having been somewhat invisible the week before.
The kicking game was another source of strength. Aside from his blocked PAT, Rodriquez was rock solid and authoritative with his field goal and conversions. The strong-legged senior also did a splendid job on kickoffs, producing three touchbacks that helped keep the Tigers pinned in their own end. Aidan Bound’s effective punting was another reason the Jags clearly won the field position battle. Though some of his punts weren’t exactly majestic, they were directionally well placed and had a nice roll to them.
The defense also had numerous players who stood out. An unofficial count had eight Jags registering multiple tackles. The defensive line was particularly noteworthy. Two-hundred pound senior Christian Patstone menaced the Tigers all night. Among his highlights were the sniffing out of a draw, repeated pressure on Bonillas, a honey of an open field tackle and a well-timed deflected pass. Micah Wierenga, a 6’5” handful, was the catalyst on three plays that resulted in loss yardage. Manny Perez was also a factor in the trenches.
Although it was definitely Newman who was the headliner of the linebacking crew, others ably assisted him. VC got workmanlike outings from both Daniel Belcher and Trent Reilly. And the always-dependable Brock Moffitt made sure he wasn’t overlooked. Whether he was hurrying the quarterback, knocking down a throw, hanging tough in pass coverage or just making a nice form tackle, the active junior made another emphatic statement.
And in the secondary, John Cabrera and Navarro provided key run support with some clutch tackles.
But there were some areas that will need to be addressed going forward if the Jags are to build on this win and become a viable contender once Valley (League) play commences.
To begin with, the passing attack will have to be more consistent. Just a week after a terrific performance against Ramona, the Jags’ aerial game took a step back. For whatever reason, Reilly and his receivers never seemed quite in sync. Normally a sharpshooter and quite accurate with his pitches, Reilly surprisingly missed on some throws that are usually right up his alley. And the receivers did their quarterback no favors by flat-out dropping multiple balls that were right on target. Reilly and his pass-catching mates are too accomplished to experience such a checkered performance.
But a much bigger area of concern is the Jags’ tendency to give up the big play. A week after Ramona hit VC with some long-distance thunder, the Tigers did the same. Allowing these quick strike scores from downtown must be eliminated. It is imperative that the Jags tighten up in this regard. Too much good work can be quickly undone by breakdowns of this type.
Overall, however, things are trending up. Having secured a vital win that evened their record, the Jags will have some momentum behind them as they travel to Santee to take on West Hills next Friday night. And Coach Rob Gilster’s squad will be greatly comforted by one irrefutable fact. Make no mistake about it, Jake Newman is back!