By Juan Reyes, Staff Reporter
The Scotts Valley High football team on March 11 shut out St. Francis High, 12-0, at Santa Cruz High School in the county’s first football game of the 2021 pandemic-impacted season.
Scotts Valley coach Louie Walters, who had previously retired at the end of the 2018 season, said the game was a win-win situation for both them and St. Francis.
“We get to play a football game,” he said. “The kids were happy on both sides. I’m sure [St. Francis] wanted to win but they were happy to be out there.”
Scotts Valley High junior Isaiah Velez said he knew that they would have to shake off the cobwebs after not playing since late 2019. It showed. The Falcons failed to score on a pair of opportunities in the red zone during the first half.
Velez said the offensive struggles mattered little. The game was all about getting back to speed after the 14-month break.
“It was pretty fun being out here,” he said.
Scotts Valley managed to score in all phases of the game. A swarming defensive line tackled St. Francis senior Pedro Valencia in his own end zone for a safety. And junior Caden Stark hit a 35-yard field goal that gave the Falcons a 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Velez credited his linemen for moving the Falcons down the field for the first touchdown drive of the season.
“Thanks to my lineman, I got in the end zone,” he said.
On the other side of the field, it was senior defensive lineman Andre Nice who played a major role in retaining the shutout for the defense.
St. Francis senior Davin Avila threw two interceptions and was being pressured inside the pocket for most of the game. Avila said he felt the Sharks came into the season opener well-prepared but penalties and missed assignments set them back.
“We’re going to fix those and we’re going to be back,” he said.
The game served as the teams’ Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League season opener. The league welcomed every school in the county for competition this year because of Covid-19 restrictions imposed on youth sports by the California Department of Public Health.
The last time the St. Francis football team stepped foot on the field it won in a blowout against Harbor High to end the 2019 season on a high note. Scotts Valley, too, finished that season off well, beating North Salinas High 21-10.
Both teams had hoped that the momentum would continue into the following year but the pandemic changed everything. Businesses closed, schools shuttered, people were forced to stay home and sports were an afterthought.
Finally returning to the field, nearly 500 days since the final whistle blew on the 2019 season, made the players grateful to be back—even if it meant playing in March under frigid conditions instead of the usually warm early fall weather.
“The weather’s a little colder but I’m happy to play football anytime,” Avila said.
The final score did not matter much. Finally playing a football game after a 14-month layoff was a reward in itself, Sharks coach John Ausman said.
It was no surprise that both teams would be a little rusty coming into the game. Both teams committed numerous penalties and turned the ball over at least once.
“It was fun…this is why you coach,” Ausman said.
Velez said he thought at one point that they wouldn’t even be able to get the season going, let alone one game. He commended the coaching staff for keeping the group together and conditioning since last spring to stay ready.
“But I’m glad that we did and now we have four more games. We got to take them slow,” he said.
There was a time when Ausman also had his doubts that football would indeed return, especially on Dec. 14, which was the day that the CDPH released updated guidance for youth sports and made the path for football to be played this year very difficult.
“I became a very huge skeptic and biggest pessimist amongst everyone,” he said. “Then things started turning around and they started getting better.”
Since then, case and positivity rates have plummeted and the county has dropped from the most-restrictive tier of the state’s Covid-19 reopening plan. Santa Cruz County health officials have said that they expect to make another move down the state’s four-tiered system by the end of the month.
Still, Scotts Valley’s game against St. Francis was the lone matchup in the county that was played last week because of miscommunication about Covid-19 testing requirements between the County Office of Education, the SCCAL and the school districts.
That mixup, however, has been dealt with, says SCCAL Commissioner Bob Kittle, and the season will roll along as planned.
“We should be back in place with some clear directions this week,” he said. “We’re going as scheduled and that’s our plan.”
Scotts Valley is scheduled to host Soquel High Saturday at 2pm.