PLEASANTON – A hard-fought nonleague win over Division I Amador Valley last year helped propel the El Cerrito High School football team to an undefeated regular season.
Gauchos coach Jacob Rincon would gladly take the same end result in 2023, and he might have the defense to do it.
El Cerrito’s defense made a two-touchdown lead in the first-half stand as the Gauchos held on to a 14-7 win over Amador Valley on Friday in the season-opening game for both teams.
Running back Micah Avery, a transfer from Clayton Valley Charter, scored on a 69-yard touchdown run with 3:46 left in the first quarter and fellow senior Michael Vanhook scored on a quarterback keeper just before halftime, providing just enough offense to help No. 14 El Cerrito extend its regular season win streak to 16 games.
Avery had 95 yards on 13 carries and Vanhook completed 8 of 15 passes for 72 yards. El Cerrito’s second touchdown drive was aided by an 85-yard run from another newcomer in Zaire Eastman, who attended De Anza last year.
El Cerrito went 12-1 last year, beginning the season with a 7-3 home victory over the Dons. That win proved to be the Gauchos’ closest game of 2022, as they went 10-0 in the regular season and earned blowout playoff wins over Montgomery-Santa Rosa and Northgate to capture the North Coast Section Division III championship.
“Coming in, we already knew Amador was going to be a physical, aggressive team,” Rincon said. “We love the brand and style of football they play. It prepares us for the rest of the season. So we expected this to be a dogfight.
“Shout out to (Dons coach) Dan (Jones). He does a great job. But overall. I think we got a few good big plays and the touchdown obviously at the half was huge for us.”
In the second half, the Gauchos relied on their defense to hold off the resilient Dons.
Amador Valley senior Nate Jetter caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aiden Foley with 5:10 left in the fourth quarter to cut El Cerrito’s lead to 14-7. The Dons were then able to get the ball back with just over two minutes to play, but El Cerrito’s defense halted the drive as Amador’s 41.
El Cerrito’s defense held opponents to nine points or less nine times last season, and that doesn’t include a 2-0 forfeit win over Hercules last October.
“I put it to them in practice: defense wins games, and we saw that here,” Vanhook said. “Defense won this game today. I love them. That’s the key to this team. I’m really proud of them.”
El Cerrito’s defense held Amador Valley to less than 150 yards of offense on Friday.
“Defensively, we did a great job,” Rincon said. “Defensive coordinator Tim Johnson does a great job preparing those guys, and then for us to come out here and execute the way we did was just a beautiful thing to see.”
Amador Valley’s options on offense were limited after senior running back Jake Goldsworthy suffered what Jones said were ankle and toe injuries midway through the first half. At that point, Goldsworthy, a two-way starter, had 36 yards on 12 carries, although he also had a pair of long rushes called back because of penalties.
Anthony Harrington and Sean Cervantes took over the bulk of the running game, rushing for a combined 63 yards.
Foley completed 4 of 8 passes for 35 yards and is holding things down while junior QB Tristan Tia sits out the first five games as a transfer from Granada.
Jones said he thought Goldsworthy would be OK and that he hoped the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder would be available to play next week when Amador Valley travels to play No. 16 Campolindo, last year’s NCS Division II runner-up.
“He’s our guy, right? Especially with how we are on offense right now, with no Tristan, we’re running the rock,” Jones said. “And Goldie’s kind of the heart and soul of our team, so when he goes down, it takes the wind out of us a little bit.
“We knew (El Cerrito) was a really good team, and I’m really proud for our backs being against the wall, 14-0, and we continued to fight. We didn’t care about what the score was. We were just worried about the next play, and I think that’s the right formula.”
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El Cerrito, which had its season ended with a 36-7 loss to Grant-Sacramento in the CIF NorCal Division 3-AA regional title game, is now a Division II team thanks to the section’s competitive realignment regulations. The Gauchos play Freedom, another Division I team, next week, with their nonleague schedule continuing with games against Fremont-Oakland, Foothill-Pleasanton, and Vacaville.
“A win like this could do (a lot for us), but we’ve got to get back to work,” Rincon said. “We had a lot of penalties and we want to clean things up and play a little bit more of a disciplined brand of football.”