Seventeen points is about the type of production U-Prep would expect to get out of Kevin Cox on senior night.
Except the multi-sport athlete did that on the football field and not for the Panthers’ hoops team on the hardwood.
Cox caught two touchdown passes, grabbed an interception on defense and scored every point in U-Prep’s 17-0 victory over Central Valley on Friday in the Tri Counties Bank Game of the Week.
It took some convincing from the Panthers’ previous head coach Darren Trueblood to get Cox – a U-Prep basketball standout for the two-time defending Northern Section Division IV champs – to play football. U-Prep offensive coordinator Taylor Angley-Holman called Cox’s progress in the shortened season a “learning curve” but Cox said it was an immediate love affair and he dedicated this season for Trueblood, who died in February after a short battle with cancer.
“Last year in (Trueblood’s) history class we would mess around about (playing football) but I showed up the first day and he was more than thrilled to see me out there,” Cox said.
“I have to thank my coaches and have to pay respects to coach Trueblood. He wanted me to play football so I came out and I did it all for him.”
Cox had found the end zone only once in the first four games on the season but Angley-Holman committed to getting him the ball since he said Cox was one of the “better athletes in the section.”
It paid off Friday with Cox hauling in a jump ball pass down the right sideline from junior quarterback Chris Jimenez. His athleticism translated from the basketball court to the gridiron to make the CV defensive back miss a tackle and Cox took it the rest of the way for a 54-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to break the scoreless tie.
“I don’t get many offensive plays so I have to make them count,” said Cox, who finished the game with two catches for 82 yards.
U-Prep added to its 7-0 halftime lead with a 27-yard field goal from Cox to open the third quarter, capping a 12-play drive.
CV (3-1) kept the ball out of U-Prep’s hands most of the first half, running twice as many plays as the Panthers (4-1). But the Falcons’ three first-half drives stalled, twice on downs. It didn’t get much better in the second half, punting after Cox’s field goal put CV behind 10 and then turning the ball over on the next three possessions.
In all, CV completed a one-yard pass and ran for 151 yards on 45 carries. Bryson Barlow led the Falcons with 49 yards on 13 attempts and quarterback Willie Mowry rushed 14 times for 41 yards.
“The offense comes with the culture and they’re still learning how to win in this offense – it’s a slow grind,” said Aaron Richards, who is in his second year as the CV head coach. “Nothing is easy in Shasta County.”
U-Prep’s Brenden Nye recovered a CV fumble late in the third quarter but Christian Mayer got it right back when he intercepted a Jimenez pass that was tipped multiple times. CV couldn’t capitalize with Cox halting the momentum with his first career interception.
Carter Abel broke off two chunk plays for U-Prep on the ensuing drive offense, taking a sweep 17-yards down the sideline and adding another 13 yards on a run up the middle. Later in the drive, facing fourth-and-11 from the CV 28, U-Prep head coach Dustin Fortenberry called timeout as Cox was lining up for a 44-yard field goal.
Instead of kicking it, Angley-Holman called Cox’s number one more time and Jimenez connected with him on a fade down the left sideline for a 28-yard scoring strike.
“Our program a lot of times feels like we’re still on the rise and we’re still trying to earn our respect and get our due,” said Fortenberry, who takes the Panthers’ 4-1 overall mark to one-win Lassen in the season finale next week.
“Our school is founded and known for academics but these kids show up and compete.”
Jimenez completed 7-of-14 passes for 134 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while Abel ran for 53 yards on 13 carries – both team-highs.
CV, which suffered its first loss of the year, hosts West Valley on Friday in the Valley Bowl to wrap up the 2021 season. But the Falcons snapped a streak of six straight losing seasons this spring and that’s the positive direction Richards is trying to take the program.
“When you’re climbing a mountain you don’t just get to jump to the top,” Richards said. “You have to learn the hard lessons like this.”