JC Hunsaker knew this season would be a test. A test of character, dedication and hard work. Would this year’s Shasta football team ride into the 2018 schedule living on the past success of the 2017 squad or would it seek to carve its own identity?
Certainly, no one on the west side expected the 2018 Wolves to replicate the amazing state-title game run of last year’s squad. That was a special, senior-led bunch that escalated its game each week, culminating in the 40-27 NorCal win over Marin Catholic. But the core of that championship team graduated, leaving a legacy, but big shoes to fill.
Three weeks into the season, the Wolves sit at 1-1 after a blowout 46-7 loss to Elk Grove. Hunsaker’s bunch faces a formidable test Friday against a 4-0 Eureka Loggers team in the Redding Rancheria Game of the Week. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Thompson Field.
“The expectations are the same for the program from year to year, but you can’t coach this year’s team like you did last year or three years ago,” Hunsaker said. “Our expectation is to go and be competitive against whoever we square off against, whether it is Eureka or Elk Grove or a whoever is on our schedule.
“I want that footprint (of success) to be around our program, but right now it’s one game at a time, one practice at a time, one rep at a time.”
The Wolves’ 28-24 win over Corning had Hunsaker tell his team to “be happy, but not proud. We got the win, but it wasn’t a victory.” After an early season bye, the Wolves got pasted last week by a historically strong Elk Grove team that hasn’t played to that reputation in the past few years.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Hunsaker said talking about coming off a blowout loss while facing a 4-0 squad that pounded Foothill 62-14 and then starting league against 3-0 Chico, the No. 1 Division II team in this week’s media poll.
The Wolves’ offense has sputtered in fits and starts under quarterback Brian Kilgore. The normally run-heavy wing-T program has relied on a deceptive pass game that hasn’t matured this young season. There are bright spots on offense for Shasta, namely the running of Rocklin transfer Brayden Coon and sophomore wing James Weaver.
Coon made a house call the first time he touched the ball in a Shasta uniform, taking a kickoff back 60-plus yards in the opener against Corning. Weaver scored the Wolves’ lone TD last week and added running and receiving scores in the Week Zero win.
Defensively, Kirk Ramage’s defense has been prone to giving up the big play – three long scores by Corning and several more against Elk Grove. Middle backers Cade Petrie and Isaiah Pena will be tasked with run-stopping the Loggers’ two wing-T running backs, Alex Miller and Robert Weir, as well as touchdown machine Ryan Sylvia, who has four touchdowns on 12 carries this season. Weir and Miller don’t possess the same speed the Wolves saw last week, but both backs showed last week against Foothill they’re fast enough to turn a 10-yard play into a 40-yard gain if you don’t wrap up and swarm to the ball.
“Eureka’s the biggest team we’ve played – they’re just big all the way across the front on both sides,” Hunsaker said. “They may not have a highlight-reel playmaker, but they seem to be a quality football program from top to bottom at all their positions.”
The Shasta secondary also will be tested again as Eureka quarterback Cruz Montana has an above-average arm and a cadre of receivers to find on the waggle or if the Loggers go spread with trips or four receivers. The Loggers’ QB has thrown for 937 yards and seven scores with a 64 percent completion percentage.
“He’s got a great arm and he’s capable of carving you up,” Hunsaker said. “We have to be balanced on picking your poison of when to attack and when to sit back, when to be heavy on run anticipation and run reads.”
Redding Rancheria Game of the Week
Who: Eureka Loggers (4-0) at Shasta Wolves (1-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Thompson Field
Updates: Follow @ShastaCoSports on Twitter or our feed on our scoreboard page
Lassen (2-1) at Foothill (1-2), 7:30 p.m.
The Cougars must find a way to bounce back after a disastrous trip to the coast and a 62-14 loss to Eureka. But it won’t be easy at Tom St. Jacques brings the Grizzlies down the hill one week after a 54-20 win over Enterprise.
Cougars quarterback Jayden Gordon has shown the ability to move the offense with his feet and must find a way to be balanced in order to keep teams from stacking the box. Lassen, historically a run-first team, has shown this year to be able to balance its attack and Foothill must tackle better than it did against the Loggers.
Oroville (2-0) at Anderson (1-1) 7:30 p.m.
This may be the most intriguing game of the night as the Cubs come home after a bye to face a 2-0 Oroville team (yes, the Tigers are 2-0 for the first time in a long time). Anderson opened the season with a win over Red Bluff, but lost bell cow back Parker Phillips to an ejection forcing him to sit in the Cubs’ lackluster 13-10 loss to Orland.
Parker is back and no doubt the Shasta County Sports’ No. 1 returning player will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. And the Cubs will need his productivity, as he has nearly half of the Cubs’ rushing production in one half of game time.
Oroville is led offensively by running back Aaron Howard with nearly 200 yards rushing and three scores in the two wins, while quarterback Jake Lowe has thrown for nearly 500 yards on 50 percent passing and four TDs.
West Valley (2-1) at Paradise (2-0), 7:30 p.m.
The Eagles’ hot-cold-hot streak will be put to the test on The Ridge against the 2-0 Bobcats, who are coming off a bye and have had two weeks to prepare for Greg Grandell’s bunch. West Valley won, got blown out and won in successive weeks and must find a way to sustain momentum from week to week.
The Eagles rely on senior Bailey Sulzer to carry the offensive load, but have gotten contributions from quarterback Kitt McCloughan and running back Josh Aguilar. They’ll need it to stop the wing-T Bobcats who look to bleed the clock on offense and keep your defense on the field.
Defensively, the Eagles must tap into that formula that dialed up two shutouts – 16-0 against Foothill and 41-0 against Red Bluff. Paradise senior back Dominic Wiggins and Jacob Weldon have paced the Bobcats with just under 500 yards rushing and nine scores between them.
Colusa (2-1) at University Prep (2-1), 7:30 p.m.
The Redhawks and Panthers come in to Friday’s game on opposite ends of the spectrum. U-Prep is riding a 15-0 shutout of Clear Lake into Week 3, while Colusa is licking its wounds after a 44-6 beating at the hands of Colfax. The two squads have a common opponent – Clear Lake – and both pitched shutouts against the Cardinals.
U-Prep is showing the moxie of a program trending up as quarterback Dylan Cabral has shown poise in the Panthers’ wins, doing good things with his arm as well as his feet. He also has been a stalwart on defense. Cabral found Trayton Laustalot last week for two scores, and back Riley Seay has shown he plays larger than his frame.
Colusa has a trio of backs who’ve rushed for more than 100 yards this young season in Christian Lyss, Fernando Castillo and Manuel Morales.
Etna (2-1) at Burney (0-3), 7:30 p.m.
The Raiders are one of four winless programs in the Northern Section and look to get off the schnide against the Lions at home.
Connor Pfadt has thrown for 200-plus yards on the year for the Raiders, who are attempting nearly 20 passes per game. Gerardo Villarruel leads Burney in rushing with 98 yards.
Etna comes into Friday with three backs doing most of the damage as Wyatt Black (four TDs) and Tyler Robinson have each rushed for more than 200 yards, and Parker Finley has added 125 yards and two scores.
Fall River (2-0) vs. Quincy (0-2) at Feather River College (Quincy), 7:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs have shown they can beat you in the air or on the ground. In an opening week win over Burney, quarterback Gavin Dobson threw for more than 200 yards and four scores – all to Cody Jorgensen. Against Maxwell last week, Bailey Small led a ground-and-pound attack with 186 yards and two scores.
Connor Caiazzo has run for nearly 100 yards in each of the Trojans’ two games.
Hayfork (0-2) at Redding Christian (1-2), 7 p.m.
After an opening-week victory, the Lions have been beaten by two 8-man heavy-hitters – Los Molinos and Princeton.
Redding Christian quarterback Isaiah VanDenend has been most of the Lions’ offense, rushing for 500-plus yards and seven scores, while throwing for 191 yards and two more scores. But Gerald Piper’s crew got blanked by LoMo and lost a 15-point decision to the Eagles.
Other Northern Section Games
Sutter at Chico, 7:30 p.m.
Pleasant Valley at Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.
Corning at Red Bluff, 7:30 p.m.
Hamilton at Durham, 7:30 p.m.
Pierce at East Nicolaus, 7:30 p.m.
Gridley at Live Oak, 7:30 p.m.
Mt. Shasta at Modoc, 7:30 p.m.
Willows at Williams, 7:30 p.m.
Wheatland at Winters, 7:30 p.m.
Portola at Chester, 7:30 p.m.
Biggs at Maxwell, 7:30 p.m.
Delta at Esparto, 7 p.m.
Hoopa Valley at Trinity, 7:30 p.m.
Las Plumas vs. Marysville at Harrison Stadium (Oroville), 7:30 p.m.
Yreka at Henley (Klamath Falls, Ore.), 7 p.m.
Butte Valley at Big Valley, 7 p.m.
Dunsmuir at Weed, 6 p.m.
Tulelake at Happy Camp, 6 p.m.
Herlong at Greenville, 7 p.m.
Loyalton at Los Molinos, 6 p.m.
Mercy at Princeton, 6 p.m.
McCloud at Westwood, 6 p.m.