Cabrillo’s running game wears down San Marcos

The Cabrillo Conquistadores got their football season off and running Friday night against an outsized San Marco team at Valley Stadium, leaving the memories of a 1-9 campaign a year ago in the dust.

Featuring four running backs who topped 50 yards, Cabrillo rushed for 321 yards behind a front line that cast shadows over their Royal counterparts, steamrolling the Conqs to a season-opening 28-6 victory on the road.

“We’ve got four to six guys who can really run the football,” said Cabrillo head coach Craigg Knowles, who let all of them have their share of carries. “We’re going to give defenses different looks this year.

“Our style of football is smash-ball a little bit, but we’ll run around the ends when we can. It will be hard to defend us.”

The Royals found that out the hard way, trying to slow down Conq running backs Jordan Watson (98 yards on 23 carries), Isaiah Montes (71 yards on 9 carries), TJ Babauta (54 yards on 10 carries) and Jalen Davenport (51 yards on 7 carries.) With a couple more carries, Jamel Whittaker (38 yards on 7 carries) would have joined the Cabrillo 50-yard-plus club.

“They were very patient — sticking to the things that were working for them,” San Marcos Jeff Hesselmeyer. Cabrillo kept running an inside pitch play very effectively.”

Knowles didn’t mind getting zero passing yardage on the night. “You go to your strengths,” he said. “That’s balance to me, not running 50, passing 50.”

Hesselmeyer might have had reason to be discouraged, but he wasn’t.

“The effort from our guys was a real plus,” he said. “We’re going to give up on size to most opponents. But we can’t use that as an excuse. We need to keep up on our conditioning, and improve on the height of the game we play — we can’t stay high, we gotta play low.”

As far as highlights go for the Royals, Randee Harvey’s 84-yard kickoff return for San Marcos’ lone score late in the second quarter was pretty much it.

That electrifying play — Harvey found a seam in the middle of field and made a beeline straight for the end zone — immediately followed a 4-yard TD run by Watson that broke a scoreless deadlock.

Cabrillo’s opening scoring drive was set up by a recovery of a fumble by Royals wide receiver Trevor Gibson after catching a pass from quarterback Joe Rivera for a 7-yard gain to the San Marcos 42.

The Royals had trouble holding onto the football all night, dropping it six times, though they managed to recover four of those. The other one they lost was also costly — stripped away from Victor Mendez after he intercepted a Cabrillo pass and returned it 29 yards to the Conquistadore 46. That double-switch came on Cabrillo’s drive following Harvey’s TD kickoff return, which could have swung momentum to the Royals had they retained possession.

“We shot ourselves in the foot putting the ball on the ground so many times,” said Hesselmeyer. “That’s something we tried to work on to avoid (in practice). We kept putting ourselves in tough situations.”

Hesslemeyer liked what he saw in the scoreless first quarter in which it appeared the Royals could hold their own with the bigger Conqs.

“I thought we played well in the first quarter — we were able to control the ball,” he said.

But Cabrillo established control in the second quarter, limiting San Marcos to just five offensive plays. The tone was set in the quarter when defensive back Gary Laugen picked off a Rivera pass to stop a Royals’ drive that carried over from the opening quarter.

A missed 40-yard field goal try — it had the distance but was wide left — by Stephen Dalton to conclude the first half left the score tied at 6. (Both teams missed PAT attempts on their first scores due to bad snaps.)

But statistically, the Conquistadores had the edge on San Marcos at the half, with a 126-36 advantage in total yardage and an 11-4 edge in first downs.

That disparity widened considerably in the opening drive of the second half. Cabrillo ran the ball 13 times with five different runners for 70 yards, the last carry by Davenport on a 6-yard scamper through the right side for a touchdown. Montes ran it in for the 2-point conversion to give the Conquistadores a 14-6 lead after dissolving nearly half the quarter (5:36) on the drive.

Davenport and Montes didn’t get their first carries until the final possession of the second quarter, so they were fresh. The Royals, meanwhile, getting pushed around by Cabrillo linemen Andy Rotondi (285 pounds), Christopher Drap (278), Caeden Johnson-Green (256), Kyle Shroll (250) and Jesus Medrano (6-5, 225) started to wear down.

Watson, taking his cue from most good running backs, credited the offensive line for his team’s ground attack.

“Our line really worked hard all summer, and it showed,” he said.

The Royals’ offense sputtered on the possession following Montes’ score, coughing up the ball three times in four plays but recovering each time, only to stall at the Cabrillo 23.

Rivera, who completed 4-of-7 passes for 23 yards in the first half, made only one more completion in the second. Running backs Jon Kim (21 yards on six carries) and Mo Cruz (34 yards on 7 carries) weren’t afforded enough opportunities to generate much offense either, as Cabrillo’s defense did a great job of keeping San Marcos’ offense off the field.

The Royals finished the night with only 101 total yards (40 from the second unit on the game’s final possession) on offense.

Harvey had a couple more nice returns on kickoffs of 25 yards-plus, but the Royals couldn’t capitalize.

The Conquistadores put the game away with two late TD runs by Watson (25 yards) and Montes (15).

Cabrillo…………………0 6 8 14 — 28
San Marcos……………0 6 0 0 — 6


C– Watson 4 run (run failed), 4:25.
SM– Harvey 84 kickoff return (run failed), 4:07.

C– Davenport 6 run (Montes run), 6:24.

C– Watson 25 run (Dalton kick), 4:12.
C– Montes 15 run (Dalton kick), 2:16.

First Downs………………………….. 23 9
Rushing Yds/Carries………………. 321/62 51/23
Passing Yds………………………….. 0 50
Passing (Att-Com-Int)……………..0-5-1 7-17-1
Total Offense………………………….321 101
Fumbles-Lost………………………….3-0 6-2
Penalties-Yards……………………….3-33 4-25


RUSHING– C: Watson 23-98, Montes 7-71, Babauta 10-54, Davenport 7-51, Whittaker 7-38, Aldridge 4-6, Laugen 1-2, Bell 1-1. SM: Cruz 7-34, Kim 6-21, Lopez 1-7, Glover 1-7, Thayer 1-2, Dominguez 1-0, Lake 1-0, Rivera 5- (-20).

PASSING– C: Aldridge 0-5-1-0. SM: Rivera 5-14-1-24, Griffin 2-3-0-26.

RECEIVING– C: None. SM: Glover 3-33, Cruz 2-7, Mendez 1-9, Kim 1-1.

RECORDS: C 1-0, SM 0-1.