MONTEREY — It’s still a small sample size. Bigger obstacles in their path await. Challenges will be forthcoming.
Nevertheless, for a program that sat and waited more 600 days to get back on the field to play a football game, the return this fall from the pandemic has reignited the fire at Monterey Peninsula College.
First year coach Ronnie Palmer brought his own visions to the program. Yet, the results through their first two games are eerie similar to the last time the Lobos were on the field in going 10-1 in 2019.
No better way to christen the newly named Pappas and Phillips Stadium then to perhaps earn a few more votes in the state rankings after MPC’s 27-10 win Saturday over Yuba.
For the third straight season, the Lobos — who are ranked No. 2 in the American Conference polls — are off to a 2-0 start. Dating back to 2019, they have won 12 of their last 13 games.
“There is good and bad,” Palmer said. “We are not even close to where we want to be. But we are 2-0. The kids played with energy. There’s passion. I’m grateful I have a team full of kids that love the game and want to play football.”
In two games under the Palmer regime, MPC has allowed just 22 points, turning to its defense to dictate the tempo, and an offense to orchestrate and engineer time consuming drives.
“Coach Palmer is a bruiser coach,” former Palma defensive end Guy Bessey said. “He loves to punch the other team in the mouth. That mentality fits my game. It’s been a smooth transition.”
The Lobos defense was challenged when Yuba came out with a triple option, something that Palmer was not able to plan for since there was no film on Yuba this fall after it forfeited its opener last week to Hartnell because of a Covid outbreak.
“You’re always prepared for any surprises,” Palmer said. “But I didn’t wake up this morning thinking we’d see a triple option. We didn’t know what type of offense we were going to see. We adjusted on the fly. That was a huge obstacle that we handled well.”
Bessey left an imprint on Yuba’s opening drive when he came off the edge on third down and chewed up the quarterback for the 6-foot-4, 230 pound 18-year-olds first sack as a college athlete, pinning them inside the 12-yard line.
“I don’t know if it sent a message,” Bessey said. “But yeah, it kind of was a tone setter for our defense. After that Yuba didn’t run in my direction very much. I got a little lonely out there.”
With the defense giving MPC a short field on its second possession, quarterback Josh Elmore went to work, airing it out to Dominic Esters on a 56 yard touchdown pass — the first of three first half touchdown passes for the former Monterey High product.
“It’s about trusting my offensive line to give me the time,” Elmore said. “It’s a three step drop and the ball is out. Having that composure in the pocket has come second nature. I can get out and run if I need to. But the pocket is my home.”
The Lobos worked the middle of the field with Elmore picking apart the 49ers defense, finding Quinton Lewis on a pair of slants, including one for a 5-yard touchdown, and connecting with Isaiah Chambers on a screen that set up a touchdown.
“Instead of taking the Covid year as a time to rest and play video games, I got into the gym, got a personal trainer, all the things I could do to make myself a better athlete,” Elmore said. “I dove into the playbook on zoom meetings. I found places to play catch with these guys.”
And while timing is still a work in progress, there’s chemistry building with a handful of receivers, including Chambers, who came out of the backfield to catch three passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 49 yards, averaging over eight yards each time he touched the ball.
“I’m definitely feeling more comfortable with the system,” Elmore said. “At the same time, it’s about focusing on your job and trusting your brothers. I’m just trying to execute. Having playmakers makes my life a lot easier.”
The Lobos ability to engineer drives through the air and on the ground with Chambers and King City product Cesar Chavez combining for over 100 rushing yards, enabling them to chew up the clock and keep their defense fresh on an unusually warm afternoon on the peninsula.
“It’s fun to see glimpses,” Palmer said. “The glaring thing is minimizing the mistakes. At times there’s offensive consistency. The defense had stops. It’s a sign of where we want to be. It was exiting to see fans in the stands. We will build off this and make it an exciting year.”
Foothill 39, Hartnell 12: Shaking off the rust from a 19-month layoff was evident for the Panthers in facing an opponent that went 10-0 in the regular season in 2019.
That first win on the field will have to wait another week as defending American Pacific 7 Conference champion Football scored the games first 26 points in knocking off the Panthers in their home opener at Rabobank.
Hartnell, who was awarded a win last week against Yuba, after it was unable to play due to Covid protocols, was playing its first game since November of 2019.
“We weren’t as disciplined as we trained to be,” said Hartnell coach Matt Collins, who is entering his 15th season. “Our defense did a really good job against the run. We didn’t quit.”
The Panthers have had their share of setbacks in getting back on the field, losing a week of practice because of Covid related issues, as well as their coach for five practices.
Hartnell’s offense struggled to find its rhythm before quarterback JP Garcia got them on the scoreboard in the third quarter when he connected with Ryan Luke for a touchdown.
“We came out in the second half and put together a nice scoring drive,” said Collins, who is No. 2 on the schools all-time list for wins. “It is something to build off of.”
A 1-yard touchdown run by Garcia had momentum on the Panthers side, until Foothill took the ensuing kickoff back 69 yards for a touchdown to expand its lead to 33-12.
Sobrato 34, Rancho San Juan 7: The Trailblazers are still searching for an identity and looking for the programs first win after falling to 0-2 on the season.
Rancho San Juan, who was 0-3 last year with no seniors in a pandemic shortened spring season, will visit St. Francis of Watsonville next Saturday at Cabrillo College.
Unlike last season when the Trailblazers failed to score a point or pick up a first down in three losses, they have moved the ball offensively, using a touchdown from Steve Araujo in the first half to cut the deficit to 14-7 at the half.
“That’s a battle tested team,” said Rancho San Juan coach Troy Emrey, in speaking about Sobrato, who had opening season losses to Christopher and Alisal, both members of the Gabilan Division. “Sobrato wore us down in the second half.”
The Bulldogs scored the games last 20 points to get into the win column. Carlos Garcia did block an extra point attempt for Rancho San Juan in the third quarter.
Contributed by local news sources