PALO CEDRO — “Do Your Job.”
That’s the Bill Belichick axiom behind much of the New England Patriot’s success over the past two decades. Yes, having ‘ol No. 12, Tom Brady, on the team helped, but the future Hall of Fame coach constantly worked to fill positions with the best player and then worked to scheme against opposing team’s weaknesses while highlighting his squad’s strengths.
While the Shasta Wolves are no six-time Super Bowl champions, JC Hunsaker’s bunch embodies the “Do your job” metaphor this season. Except for a rough first half in the 20-19 opening-night loss to West Valley, the Wolves have played some of the best football in the North State in the ensuing 14 quarters.
Enterprise – 57-7. Check.
Red Bluff – 28-7. Check.
Foothill – 42-14. Check, in what was to be the Wolves’ biggest test of the season outside of the Eagles.
And while Shasta got big contributions from its marquee names, the entire Wolves’ lineup showed up at one point during the win.
Video by Tracy Holmes/Shasta County Sports
“There were lot of good efforts by a lot of young men tonight,” Hunsaker said. “It really is the sum of our parts.”
Yes, James Weaver ran for 43 yards and a score on nine carries while adding another score on a highlight-reel 22-yard reception that saw him Superman for the ball at the goal line.
Shasta TD: Dunlap converts 3rd and 19 with a 22yd TD pass to James Weaver, who makes an athletic play to haul in the TD.
— ShastaCountySports (@ShastaCoSports) April 10, 2021
Yes, Bryson Kimp showed out again with two scored as part of his 35-yard night, including a 1-yard score that was more of a trampoline hop into the end zone than the 70s’ Nestea Plunge.
Yes, Blanden Stankey was a beast on defense, constantly disrupting the Foothill offense in the backfield.
Yes, Michael Traylor was every bit the run-stopper as advertised … even showing up on special teams with a blocked punt that led to Weaver’s TD catch.
But, Friday, it was more than those four guys.
It was 11 guys running Hunsaker’s offense to a … Wing-T.
It was 11 guys flying around in Shasta’s new defensive scheme under coordinator Jim Schuette that’s allowed less than 12 points per game this season.
Yes, the “headliners” shined under the Friday Night Lights in winning their second trophy of the season – the River Bowl cup and the SUHSD three-headed monster.
But it was guys whose names don’t normally grab headlines that … just did their job.
The Wolves got a career night from quarterback Layton Dunlap, who threw for 188 yards on 7-of-8 passing and two TDs. And while the pitch and catch to Weaver might be long remembered for its back-end athleticism, Dunlap’s first TD strike to Jack Reindel might be more impressive. The senior rolled right on the waggle and found Reindel in stride on an out-and-up route on for a 68-yard catch and run. The strike showed the emergence of Dunlap as another weapon in the run-heavy Shasta arsenal as well a breakout-performance by Reindel, who’s quietly become a two-way playmaker.
“To be able to not have to worry about calling one number all the time is huge,” Hunskaer said. “We have a bunch of guys who can step in and make big plays. It’s not just our running backs, Layton had a great game tonight. Had some great throws and timely third-down conversions through the air.”
And behind the Dunlap-to-Reindel connection, the Kimp TD hop and an offense that has multiple skill weapons is a rag-tag sort of offensive line, short on size, but big on belief.
“Our team is filled with guys who know what to do with the rock when they get the rock,” Dunlap said. “We are a lethal team when we start out full speed.”
The line features two guys in center Eric Schuette and guard Kason Lugo who might, combined, equal the weight of an NFL lineman. Tackle Burton Downs is another undersized dude who plays on the edge with a fiery passion. The “big dudes” on the line are Andrew McMurtrey, a guy coming into his own after converting to guard from fullback, and the mulleted Jack Santos, who doesn’t lack in confidence while filling out the No. 77 jersey.
“We’ve got one guy maybe over 200 pounds, but these guys are tenacious and want to be good at their job and they’ve embraced their role,” Hunsaker said. “We’ve made some small tweaks with some of our schemes to help our guys execute their jobs because they’re undersized and they’re picking it up and able to go out and execute.”
The beauty of Hunsaker’s scheme is his linemen have to execute, just not for too long. But when asked to pull on the sweep, hold the pass block on the waggle or get out in space on the back-side screen, Santos, McMurtrey, Lugo, Schuette, Downs and Lugo do their job.
And while the Wolves’ offense is highlight ready, the defensive arsenal is a powderkeg ready to blow.
The defensive 11 held a big-play offense in check largely most of the night – save for a 71-yard, first-quarter Cooper Laloli run where Antonio Mazorra “freelanced” and went outside. A fix and promise to Schuette to “do his job” limited the Cougars to no play longer than 17 yards under Smith’s late 66-yard score after the running clock had been called for.
Stankey and Traylor are the leaders of the group, but they, like their offensive counterparts, are surrounded by guys who’ve bought into the new scheme and get better each week. After the one miscue, Mazorra pestered Foothill ball carriers all night logging a handful of tackles-for-loss and a sack. Or big Tony Perez is a junior who’s imposing figure at nose guard and learning how to leverage his size and strength.
“I don’t think I’ve been on a team with this type of chemistry,” said Stankey.
It’s players like safety Zach Wilkes, who turned the game on its head at the end of the first half and Foothill threatening to score and seize momentum. Instead, the speedy junior jumped a slant route on third-and-goal from the Wolves 9. He snagged the Davis Smith pass on the run and raced 100 yards the other way untouched for a touchdown that gave the Wolves a 28-7 lead at intermission.
“Defensively, we’re playing really solid football across the board,” Hunsaker said. “And when you get big plays, like the one from Zach (Wilkes), it deflates them. It could’ve been 21-14 and ‘Bam,’ how do you recover from that?”
Wilkes is joined in the secondary, but sophomore Braxton Fleming, Hunter Pinkston (who also excels on offense at wing), Reindel and Alex Hughes, who might’ve hyped the Shasta sideline up when he dislodged Aidan Hathaway from a would-be Smith pass.
And while Blanden Stankey might be the defacto leader of the Wolves’ defense now, the future is his younger brother, Mason, who’s ceiling is scary good while playing alongside Traylor, David Webb and junior Trey Guillory.
“We’ve got the rig rolling right now and I’m not sure anyone could stop us at this point,” Stankey said.