College football: Platooning quarterbacks propel Lobos past Yuba

Peninsula Premier Admin

MONTEREY — It’s not a dilemma when both parties have bought in. Instead, it proved to be a potent recipe for success.

A two-quarterback system didn’t necessary change the pace of the game for Monterey Peninsula College. What it did create at times was confusion for the opponent.

How long head coach Ronnie Palmer alters series’ with Josh Elmore and Kai Lee isn’t a concern — not after both accounted for four touchdowns Saturday in the Lobos season opening 43-12 win over Yuba at Pappas-Phillips Stadium.

Dating back to last year, the defending American Golden Conference champions have won six straight regular season games, including their last four at MPC.

“I’m going to take the scenic route home,” Palmer said. “Enjoy the sun and beach with my girls and just settle down. But by this evening, I’ll be watching film of the game.”

What Palmer will witness is Lee and Elmore taking turns dismantling Yuba’s defense — particularly in the second half when the Lobos found their rhythm and ran off 29 points.

“I think Josh and Kai had a competitive fall camp,” Palmer said. “They both highlight some unique abilities that we are tiring to utilize in both of them. I thought Kai did a great job and Josh gave some balance in our offense.”

Elmore, who helped lead the Lobos to an American Golden Coast Conference title last year, has altered repetitions in practice with Lee, who hasn’t played football since throwing for 6,700 yards in three seasons at Carmel in 2019.

For the 6-foot-5 Lee, who spent the last two years playing college basketball, the return to football meant a lot of chest pumps from his teammates after rushing for two touchdowns.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lee said. “Honestly, my focus during the game was on each play. After the game, I thought about it a little deeper. I really missed the game. It just feels good to be back.”

Both had their moments when they looked sharp, with Lee mixing the run and pass, while Elmore hooked up with David Payne for a touchdown, and also rushed for one.

“We support each other,” said Lee in speaking about sharing the quarterback room with Elmore. “Josh has different strengths then me. It potentially throws teams off. The main thing is we came out with the win.”

Scoreless in the first quarter, the 43 points the Lobos racked up was the most in the Palmer era, as Jonah Mendez gave MPC another look when he took a pitch from Lee and tossed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Seth Maldonado.

“Jonah had best quarterback rating of the game,” joked Palmer. “We like to make it fun. We game plan. This was a play that our OC really liked. It was executed. It really ignited our offense in the second half.”

Mendez, a former quarterback at King City that was converted to a running back at MPC, provided the ground game with some energy with his first collegiate rushing touchdown in the second half.

“There were a lot of sloppy moments in the first half and a lot of great moments in the second half,” Palmer said. “You do not want to see perfection executed and be fooled that your team is better than it is at this point. It’s Week 1.”

When Palmer watches tape, he’ll see an aggressive defense that produced four sacks in the first quarter, setting the tone for the game for MPC.

The Lobos defense, which held four opponents to 13 or less points last year, took Yuba out of its rhythm, with former Palma product Guy Bessey picking up his first sack of the season.

The 6-foot-4 defensive end and reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year finished fourth in the state last year in sacks with nine.

“It’s my first time calling defensive plays in 10 years,” Palmer said. “I was excited to see what we could do with Guy and Joey (Finley) on the edges. Aviel (Avila) did a nice job inside and Dre (Gomez) played well.”

Finley bounced on a fumble in the second half that led to Lee’s second rushing touchdown of the game, putting the Lobos up 41-12 with 7:38 remaining.

“I’m sure I’ll turn the tape on and cringe at certain things,” Palmer said. “But I thought that our front seven would be one of our strong points. Our defensive backs held their own.

The Lobos ran the ball better in the second half with Mendez and Devin Bradd, enabling Lee and Elmore to pick apart Yuba’s defense, wearing them down.

“I think Kai and Josh have respect for each other’s abilities,” Palmer said. “It’s a unique quarterback room. I was pleased with our young receiving core. They made some nice plays and added some pop to our offense.”

With a bye next week — the first of two this year, Palmer will have an extra week to gear up for Feather River, who beat MPC twice last season in Quincy, a 328 mile drive from Monterey, including the bowl game.

“It will be nice to have them at home and see how we play,” Palmer said. “But we have to get better, clean some things up and execute like we did in the second half. I just want to go 1-0 each week.”

Feather River 49, Hartnell 6: There will be better days for the Panthers, who ran into a program that hasn’t lost a game in two years.

Feather River extended its winning streak to 11 after opening the season with an impressive offensive effort in sinking Hartnell in both team’s season opener at Rabobank.

“We played a good football team today,” Hartnell coach Matt Collins said. “We played well in the first half, but made a lot of mistakes in the second half.”

The Panthers, who dropped four games by four points or less last year, gave Feather River one of its biggest challenges last fall before succumbing 48-39.

That offensive fire wasn’t there for Hartnell — at least not yet, as it was held to a first half touchdown pass from J.P Garcia to James Mickens for 49 yards.

That touchdown closed the deficit to 13-6 late in the second quarter before the momentum shifted when Feather River scored just before halftime.

“It was a big drive for them,” said Collins, who has the second most wins in Hartnell school history. “Their run game caused us issues in the second half. You’ve got to be disciplined with assignments against a team like that, and we weren’t.”

The Panthers have dropped three of their last five season openers, in which the offense has scored 12 or fewer points.

Garcia, a 6-foot-5, 254-pound All-American last year, who led the state in passing yards per game, threw for 129 yards and rushed for 50 yards. Mickens caught four passes for 64 yards.

Contributed by local news sources

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