Gavin McAuliff and his East Nicolaus High football teammates didn’t waste any time against the Mt. Shasta High squad this time.
Hosting the North Section Division IV semifinal game at Wahl Field on Friday, No. 1 East Nicolaus scored often. No. 5 Mt. Shasta was able to get on the scoreboard, but East Nicolaus produced a 48-20 win.
“We just came out and executed right off the bat,” said East Nicolaus head coach Travis Barker against Mt. Shasta. “We preach execution, setting the tone at the beginning of the game, and they did just that.”
Now East Nicolaus (11-1) returns to the section championship game. The Spartans will host No. 2 Pierce (8-4), which beat No. 4 Winters 46-7 in the other D-IV semifinal game. The title game will take place at Wahl Field next Wednesday.
The title game will be a rematch between East Nicolaus and Pierce. In a non-league game at the Bears’ field in Arbuckle on Sept. 20, East Nicolaus had a 47-12 victory.
The Spartans received the opening kickoff of the game. They capped an 11-play, 67-play drive that were all run plays when slot back Aaron Alestra took the handoff from McAuliff, found running room and zoomed into the end zone on a 9-yard run with 7:48 left in the opening quarter. Ashton York booted the Spartans’ extra point to make it 7-0.
“Gavin is a veteran,” said Barker of McAuliff, a senior who is a three-year starter. “The experience he has, and the experience we have in the backfield (helped).”
Receiving the kickoff, Mt. Shasta (5-6), starting from its own 40-yard line, got the help of moving the football thanks to East Nicolaus whistled for personal foul and pass interference penalties. That moved the ball to the Spartans 26-yard line, along with a mixture of runs from running backs Gaspar Rodriguez and Kayden Crisci.
But East Nicolaus’ defense forced the Bears into losing the ball on loss of downs. On fourth down and eight from the Spartan 26, Mt. Shasta quarterback Cole Kindley threw an incomplete pass to Rodriguez.
After getting the ball back, McAuliff, who entered the game throwing for 1,171 yards this season, completed a 74-yard reception to wide receiver David Earhart, who was running a post pattern. Earhart beat out a Mt. Shasta defensive back and high-kneed the remaining 40 yards to make the score 13-0 with 3:41 left on the clock. The extra-point kick was blocked.
“We figured that it was going to happen because of the way they play defense,” said McAuliff of the Bears’ defense on the Spartans’ passing game. “We’ve seen the open areas of the defense.”
The Spartans’ defense set up their team’s next score. Linebacker Garrett McCray picked off a Kindley pass with 1:41 left in the first quarter.
Now entering the second quarter, the Bears’ turnover turned into an East Nicolaus lead of 19-0. That is when fullback JT Stinson busted up the middle on a 6-yard run with 10:25 left in the second quarter. The Spartans’ attempt at a 2-point conversion, a run, failed.
At 8:32 in the same quarter, East Nicolaus, thanks to its defense that forced Mt. Shasta to go three and punt, upped its lead to 25-0.
Alestra scored his second touchdown on a 68-yard run in which bounced off a Mt. Shasta player, appeared to have stopped in his own tracks but ran to his outside and down the middle of the field for the score. The Spartans’ next attempt on a 2-point play, also a run, failed.
Kindley used his arm and legs that led to the Bears’ first touchdown of the game. After completing 36 and 12-yard passes to Rodriguez and Phillip Gunther, respectively, to move the football to the East Nicolaus 8, Kindley scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper with 6:17 on the clock. Rodriguez booted the extra-point to make it 25-7.
“They’re a good team,” said Barker of Mt. Shasta.
East Nicolaus trotted into its locker room with a 32-7 halftime lead. That is because McAuliff hit running back Mitch Barker on a 39-yard strike with 2:10 left in the second quarter. York booted the extra-point.
Within a minute in the third quarter, East Nicolaus iced the game with a comfortable 45-7 lead.
Alestra scored his third touchdown of the game at 8:48. This time on a 62-yard run. York added the extra-point kick.
McAuliff, who also plays outside linebacker, picked off a Kindley pass at the Bears 33. Three plays later, Barker scored on a 1-yard run with 7:53 on the clock. The extra-point kick missed the uprights.
Now with game officials calling for a running clock, Mt. Shasta did all it could to score to savor some pride. And the Bears did just that when Crisci scored on a 1-yard run at 3:18 in the third. The extra-point kick was no good to make it 45-13.
York added the finishing touches on the Spartans’ scoring in the fourth quarter, booting a 32-yard field goal at the south end of Wahl Field to make it 48-13 with 7:35 left in the contest.
Mt. Shasta scored its final touchdown of the game and season at 6:04 when Crisci scored again. This time on a 64-yard run. Rodriguez kicked the extra-point.
Now it’s East Nicolaus and Pierce for the section title.
“I think they’ve gotten a lot better,” said Barker of Pierce. “We’re going to have to put our nose to the grind stone and in a short period of time.”