Quick starts are nothing new to the Monterey Trail High School football team. They have won at least three nonconference games in four of the last five years.
Moving to the eight-team Delta League this season means head coach T.J. Ewing only had to schedule three nonconference games.
Extending its early-season dominance figured to be more difficult in 2014.
Even so, Monterey Trail opened the season with a 27-20 win over Antelope, a playoff qualifier a year ago.
Throughout the opener, Monterey Trail exhibited a handful of elements that should contribute to contending for a possible playoff berth.
One key element was the ability of the offense to take risks when necessary, as has been the trademark of Ewing.
Senior quarterback EJ Viacrusis, who accounted for three touchdowns, also seamlessly transitioned into his first game as the starter.
Viacrusis attempted just nine passes last season. Yet, in his season debut last Friday, he made smart decisions while under pressure from the defensive line, and was accurate with his passing.
He completed 6-of-7 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
Viacrusis connected with Jermaine Bell on an 80-yard touchdown. Neville Bood caught a nine-yard touchdown reception.
Senior Trey Nahhas led the team in rushing with 20 carries for 110 yards and one touchdown. He also had three receptions for 34 yards.
Viacrusis carried 12 times for 90 yards.
“Our running backs fought hard,” Ewing said. “The one thing that was crucial to our success was the second-contact yards gained. Without that, we would have punted a lot more.”
More than anything, Viacrusis was able to extend drives with his arm and his feet.
On third-and-eight at the 50-yard line, he completed a first-down pass to Nahhas for 19 yards. Later on the drive, Viacrusis ran for 21 yards on third-and-12.
Monterey Trail led 21-13 at the half, though neither team built a comfortable lead until late in the fourth quarter.
“As we went into the second half, I hoped the players would become more physical,” said Ewing. “Once we did that I think we were at even more of an advantage.”
Monterey Trail came within one win of qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs in each of the last two seasons. Both times they needed to win just once in their last three games to punch a ticket into the postseason.
It didn’t happen.
Similar to those seasons, Monterey Trail must take advantage of this year’s nonconference schedule, albeit a competitive three-game slate, to be in contention once again in late October.
Friday, the Mustangs travel to Inderkum, which beat Monterey Trail 46-12 in last year’s opener.
Monterey Trail concludes nonconference play on Sept. 12 against rival Florin in a battle for the annual Macres trophy, a game played in honor of former vice principal Mark Macres.
“We are going to stay committed and keeping working hard every day,” Viacrusis said, “A big thing here at Monterey Trail is that we stay committed and that is what we are focusing on. We want to work as a team to be the best we can and hope to keep improving.”
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