RedHawks special teams, defense shine in blowout of Willows

Conner Saso took the opening kickoff of Friday’s game in Willows 90 yard for a touchdown, and the RedHawks’ varsity football team never looked back, cruising to a 38-0 win against the Honkers.

It was the beginning of a stellar night for Saso, whose contributions on special teams and defense, in particular, helped fuel his team in the blowout win. In addition to the 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown (which came on the Honkers’ only kickoff of the night), Saso snagged two interceptions from his free safety position on defense, and nearly had a third, which he tipped into the arms of Leo Guzman to preserve the shutout and end the game. Saso added 52 yards on punt returns, and rushed for a pair of scores and 45 yards on just three carries.

“I’m not surprised. It’s really what we’ve come to expect from Conner,” said Colusa head coach Matt Jessee. “He works hard in practice, he’s good leader on and off the field, and always has his nose in the play-book… He’s always trying to improve himself, and he’s doing a good job of improving the performance of the guys around him.”

Colusa’s defense got its third shutout of the season, holding Willows under 100 yards of total offense and allowing just six first downs throughout the game – three of which came on the Honkers’ first drive, and three of which came on their final drive. Outside of those two drives, each Willows possession ended in either a turnover or a punt following a three-and-out. Colusa’s Pedro Cardenas led the RedHawks with 12 total tackles, and he and Rafael Manjarrez each sacked Willows quarterback Jack Martin once.

“We had a good week in practice, a hard week in practice, and we wanted to make sure that everyone’s head was in the right place after a win against Pierce the week before,” Jessee said. “We didn’t want to dwell too long on that game, and didn’t want to look ahead to next week’s game against Durham. We needed to focus on Willows. We had a good game-plan coming in, and the kids did a good job of executing on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense.”

After Saso’s game-opening kick-off return, Willows took over possession at their own 30-yard line, and marched to Colusa’s 47-yard line in nine plays. On third-and-4, Cardenas brought down Martin for an eight-yard loss, forcing the Honkers to punt.

When Colusa took possession at their own 25-yard line, Colusa’s Christian Lyss and Brendan Garcia were a one-two-punch for the RedHawks’ offense, taking turns carrying the ball to push their team into Willows territory. On second-and-5 from Willows’ 44-yard line, Saso dropped back to pass and, facing pressure, found Riley Stice in the middle of the field.

Stice stretched out to make a one-handed catch for a 33-yard gain. Lyss rumbled in from 11 yards out the following play, putting the RedHawks up 12-0 after a failed two-point attempt, with just under four minutes left in the first quarter.

After a Willows three-and-out, Colusa started with the ball at their own 17-yard line. The RedHawks marched 81 yards in 9 plays, including a 39-yard scamper by Saso, before Lyss scored his second touchdown of the night – this one from two yards out – and went up 19-0 after the extra point.

Willows’ ensuing drive lasted just three plays, as Saso grabbed his first interception of the night near mid-field, and returned it to Willows’ 35-yard line. Colusa traveled 34 yards in eight plays, setting them up with a first and goal from the one-yard line, but a penalty set them back five yards. Cardenas got those five yards back on first down, but was stopped for no gain on second down, as was Lyss on third down. On fourth down from the one-yard line, Saso scored his first touchdown on a quarterback keeper, putting Colusa up 26-0 after the extra point. Colusa got the ball back again, this time at their own 21-yard line, with just 56 seconds left in the first half. A 47-yard run by Brendan Garcia on the second play of the drive brought them into Willows territory, but Colusa turned the ball over on downs as time expired.

The RedHawks began the second half the same way they began the first: with a big play from Saso. This time, it was on defense. After Willows’ Armondo Robles returned the second-half kickoff 44 yards to midfield, Saso grabbed his second interception on the Honkers’ first play from scrimmage – but Colusa wasn’t able to capitalize on the turnover this time around.

After allowing a touchdown in three of Colusa’s four first-half drives, the Honkers shored things up defensively. Both defenses forced a pair of three-and-outs, and traded punts twice. Colusa finally scored again with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a five-yard scramble by Saso, and again early in the fourth quarter, on a one-yard touchdown run from Cardenas.

“When you look at it in all three facets, we came ready to play and the kids did a nice job,” Jessee said.

Garcia led the RedHawks with rushing yards, finishing with 111 on just eight carries. Lyss served as the RedHawks workhorse, getting a team-high 17 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Cardenas also had a rushing touchdown for the RedHawks.

Colusa (5-1, 2-0 Sacramento Valley League) hosts Durham (4-1, 2-0 SVL) in a league tilt on Friday.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net