If the first win is the hardest, then the Knights are on track for a special season under first-year coach Bryon Hamilton.
Shasta College ushered in a new era with a 26-3 victory over visiting Chabot College Saturday night to give Hamilton his first victory as the headman for the Knights in the College Game of the Week, presented by Sierra Pacific Industries.
If the pressure of the first game wasn’t enough, the Knights celebrated at Memorial Stadium in front of a packed crowd on homecoming night and the Hall of Fame Game.
“I haven’t been a head coach in seven years so it’s such a different mindset than being a coordinator, having to immediately analyze different aspects of the game that I wouldn’t normally worry about,” said Hamilton, who came to the Knights in 2012 from being the head varsity coach at Foothill High School in Palo Cedro.
“I have a great staff that helped me get to this point. The kids – I’m so proud of them to work so hard to get ready for game one so I like where things are headed.”
The Knights (1-0) never trailed in the game and got plenty of support from their special teams unit in the process. A punt return touchdown from Ivan Smith, a recovered fumble for a touchdown on a punt from Dashawn Gregory and field goals of 23 and 43 yards from Matthew Ramirez built the Shasta lead.
“We talked before the season about being the best in special teams,” Hamilton said. “It can be the difference in a game and the specials scored 20 of our 26 points.”
PHOTO GALLERY: 42 photos from Shasta College’s first win by Mike Daly
Smith’s 73-yard return got the scoring started early in the second and the Knights’ defense came up with a stop at the goal line when Joe Merkel stripped Ponove Veimau, allowing Tavian Wallace to come up with the ball for a touchback. Ramirez and Chabot (0-1) traded 23-yard field goals and the Knights marched downfield to set Ramirez up for a 43-yarder just before half for a 12-3 lead.
It was more than enough with the way Shasta’s vaunted defense was playing under coordinator Craig Thompson, who stayed on staff as an assistant after being at the helm for the Knights since 1997. The defense held quarterback Chayce Akaka, who Thompson said has NCAA Division I offers, to 12 of 31 passing for 104 yards and 51 yards rushing.
Shasta limited Chabot to 53 yards across its first six possessions and had 11 plays result in negative yardage. Cole Parker had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks while Detrius Kelsall had six tackles, two of which were for a loss. Merkel and Garrison Roach had seven tackles apiece.
It was the first time the Knights allowed three points or less in a season opener since 1987 and the only time they’ve given up exactly three points in an opener in program history.
“We’re resilient, we can bend but we won’t break,” said Kelsall, a Shasta High product.
With the defense and special teams doing their part, the offense showed glimpses of explosiveness. Quarterback Hoku-Lani Wickard was locked in on mid-range throws and he hooked up with James Lee seven times for 115 yards on the night. Lee added another 30 yards rushing.
“I already knew we had very explosive offense and could put numbers on the board,” said Lee, a freshman from Clearwater, Florida. “We just had to get the connection between Hoku-Lani and the receivers. It all starts with the line and once they got it together and Hoke started firing off, it just went up from there.”
Shasta’s lone offensive touchdown came from running back Matt McCree, who punched it in from 2 yards out with 5:27 left in the third quarter. Not even 2 minutes later, Chabot’s punter mishandled the snap and was crushed by a pair of Knight defenders, leaving an easy scoop and score for Gregory to go up 26-3, which would hold the rest of the way.
Wickard finished 19 of 33 yards for 262 yards and two interceptions while the Knights had 80 yards rushing, led by McCree’s 42 yards on 15 carries. Despite putting up 26 points and 342 yards of offense, Hamilton said they still left a lot of points out there by not capitalizing on opportunities.
It was the start the program needed with the change in regime and the Knights are on the rise, Kelsall said.
“You can def feel the culture change,” Kelsall said. “Everyone is banding together and getting behind what Hamilton is preaching every day – getting the classes, showing up on time and just being excellent in everything we do.”
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