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Rodriguez takes center stage in Esco’s opening-night act

Oh sure, he had plenty of help. Especially from a highly efficient offensive line and a defense that thoroughly stifled its opponent. But make no mistake, Escondido High running back Kevin Rodriguez was the centerpiece of the Cougars’ convincing 27-0 win over an overmatched Mission Bay squad in the season opener for both teams last Friday night at Wilson Stadium.

In a nutshell, Rodriguez was a beast. Readily bursting through holes, impressively powering over defenders and showing the quicks to get to the perimeter where he did plenty of damage, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder was in many ways the Cougars’ entire offense. With Rodriguez chewing up yardage at a breakneck pace, Esco wisely opted to stay with what was working so well. And that was having freshman quarterback Robert Ramos ease his way into varsity competition by simply turning and handing off to Rodriguez and letting the bullish back do his thing. By the time his noteworthy night was done, Rodriguez had rushed for a massive 237 yards and tallied thrice on touchdowns. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Rodriguez had bludgeoned the Bucs into submission.

Going into the contest, the host Cougars did appear to have the edge. Returning six starters on both sides of the ball and with expectations high for a significant improvement on their 2-8 record from the season before, Coach Jud Bordman’s crew seemed poised to get off to a promising start to their season. The Cougs also had the revenge factor working in their favor, having suffered a tough 31-28 loss to MB the year before.

For their part, the Bucs entered the fray quite green with 22 sophomore players. By all accounts, this figured to be a rebuilding year for first-year coach Kenny Nears and his team. And based on what MB showed against the Cougs, it clearly will be. Mistake-prone and sloppy, for much of the game the Bucs couldn’t manage to get out of their own way. From a passel of penalties to numerous snaps-from-center that went over the quarterback’s head, this was an ugly performance. Indeed, MB has a lot of work to do.

But a lot of Mission Bay’s troubles were the direct result of Escondido’s efficiency and splendid play. Esco’s defense was quite aggressive, hitting hard and generating plenty of pressure on Buc QB Jaiden Correa, whose big arm was rendered basically useless because he was continually running for his life.

Meanwhile, the Cougars O-line was often creating huge holes that Rodriguez neatly exploited. And there were also those occasions when the openings were somewhat tight but Rodriguez still made the most of them with his powerful and determined running. Many a Buc defender was put on his backside attempting to bring down the hard-charging Cougar.

The game’s direction dramatically shifted early in the second quarter with the score tied at 0. Deciding to gamble on a 4th and 8 situation from his own 43-yard line, Bordman had Justin Fox set up as if to punt only to have the sophomore then unload a somewhat wobbly but good enough pass downfield to Quinton Gaudet, who made a nifty sliding catch while coming back for the ball. Clearly energized by the trick play that had moved the chains and positioned Esco in Mission Bay territory, the Cougars would then call upon Rodriguez for three straight carries, including a 20-yard gallop in which he bounced off a would-be MB tackler.

Eventually, the Cougs were faced with a 4th and goal situation from the 2 but knowing that Rodriguez was on a roll, Bordman wisely elected to go for it. To no one’s surprise, Rodriguez got the call, hit the line hard and banged into the end zone at the 8:06 mark to stake the Cougs to the lead. A well-struck PAT from kicker Luis Flores extended the margin to 7-0.

Barely over a minute later, Esco had doubled its advantage and basically taken a stranglehold on the game. When MB coughed up the ball after a completed pass in the flat, Cougar Rinor Koxha, who had earlier intercepted a Correa throw, grabbed the loose pigskin and hustled down the left sideline before he stepped out of bounds at the 13-yard line. From there, it was Rodriguez again doing the honors. Benefitting from great blocks off the left side, he sped through a crater-like opening and hit paydirt completely untouched. Now up 14-0, Esco went into halftime a confident group and looked to be totally in control of things.

The second half proved to be more of the same as Esco continued to exert its will. Midway through the third quarter, the Cougars would embark on an impressive 83-yard drive that featured seven totes by the workhorse Rodriguez, who only seemed to be getting stronger as the game progressed. Rodriguez’s most noteworthy effort came on a 38-yard dash when he shot through the middle, used good acceleration to veer to the outside and then raced down the left sideline before being pushed out of bounds. Five plays later, reserve back Shawn Moskowitz got a chance and he made the most of it when he kept his legs churning and went in from five yards out. At 20-0, this game was all but over.

However, there was no let up in the Cougars and they would tack on another score at the 10:30 mark of the final stanza. This culminating tally was strictly a Rodriguez production as he was given the ball seven straight times which included a key fourth-down conversion. Once again demonstrating his nose for the goal line, Rodriguez collected his third TD of the evening when he pounded up the gut from four yards out. One last point after by Flores brought an end to the scoring at 27-0 and put an exclamation mark on Esco’s emphatic victory.

Though Rodriguez had been the headliner and his mates upfront had been stellar wingmen, Esco’s defense was also deserving of plenty of kudos. In addition to Koxha’s two takeaways, another defensive back who shined was Moskowitz. The heady junior made plenty of tackles, played with aggression and did a nice job on coverage.

Outside linebacker Gaudet also had his name called on numerous occasions because he was involved with plenty of stops. And Lance DeSorbo, Mason Malone and Edwin Vorachack were definitely contributors who got in on the mix and made their presence felt.

All in all, it was a solid and encouraging start for the Cougars. Hopefully, it marks the beginning of what will ultimately prove to be a successful campaign. And if Rodriguez can replicate with any sort of consistency what he showed versus MB, he and his team could very well be onto something significant.

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