Football Playoff Preview: Colusa vs. East Nicolaus

‘Hawks face tough sledding against undefeated Spartans

Colusa High School’s football team survived Trinity in the first round of Northern Section Division IV playoff action, but the Redhawks have a steeper ascent in this Friday’s semifinal — trekking to East Nicolaus for a rematch with the top-ranked, undefeated Spartans.
In Week Two, the Spartans steamrolled Colusa, 41-21, but much has changed for the Redhawks since that preseason match-up.

After Shane Calcagno went down with his foot injury, the Redhawks were forced to make adjustments in their skill positions. As Conner Saso took the snaps and entrenched himself as Colusa’s primary passer, Christian Lyss transitioned from the starting quarterback to a leading running back in Calcagno’s absence.

A patient, confident runner, Lyss has thrived for the Redhawks on the ground. He has averaged over 80 yards per game, and he rushed for a season-best four touchdowns in the dominant victory against Willows.

Saso backed up Lyss during their junior varsity years, but Saso has excelled in the starting quarterback role all year. He has thrown for eight touchdowns to date, and since the beginning of October — a span of four games — he has completed 65 percent of his passes (15-for-23) with no interceptions.

And now, Calcagno is off the injured reserve list to rejoin Lyss and teammates Fernando Castillo, Raymond Frias, and Aksil Coombs in the backfield.

Though the Spartans have managed to shut out three opponents this year, Colusa was one of three teams to score three times against them.

Moving the ball shouldn’t be the problem for Colusa, it’s a matter of maintaining possession and stopping the big play.

East Nicolaus running back Corey Taylor averages 88 yards per game and has scored 12 times this year, often slipping past linebackers for long gains. Mauricio Bautista poses another scoring threat for the Spartans with his speed and agility.

Like Colusa, the Spartans rely mostly on their ground game, but sophomore quarterback Gavin McAuliff has proven effective with a 54 percent completion rate (61-for-112 this year) and 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

If the Redhawks can keep turnovers to a minimum and prevent coast-to-coast mistakes by smothering ballcarriers, then anything can happen in this week’s contest. Kickoff will be 7 p.m. at East Nicolaus High School, and the winner will advance to the championship game on Wednesday, Nov. 22.■