HS football: Rally 'Wild' Catz

Watsonville High junior Joshua Rocha is competing with senior Daniel Rocha to become this year's starting quarterback. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

Watsonville hopes to rebound after subpar season playing in PCAL-Mission division

Watsonville High came out swinging last year by winning the first three games of the season. The Wildcatz also won their Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission division opener against North Salinas.

But the rest of the league proved to be a little too much for Watsonville as it lost the final five games in league play.

Nearly half of Watsonville’s roster — about 45 players — are seniors and the team should have no issues with numbers or experience this season.

Watsonville (1,966 students) will be the largest school in the PCAL-Cypress division in terms of enrollment, according to USNews.com.

The Wildcatz will square off against North Monterey County, King City, Soquel, San Lorenzo Valley, Gonzales and longtime rival Santa Cruz. 

Watsonville is the lone team to move down to the division, going from the Mission into the Cypress, while Soquel and Gonzalez jumped up from the Santa Lucia division.

The Wildcatz are also set to play against cross-town rival Pajaro Valley in the annual Belgard Kup, which is going into its 13th year.

Ron Myers is heading into his 13th season (second stint) as Watsonville’s head coach. He previously coached the Wildcatz from 1984-90 and returned in 2014.  

Here’s a breakdown of this year’s Watsonville football team:

  • Last year’s record: 4-6
  • Last year’s league record: 1-5 (tied for last in PCAL-M)
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state ranking: 677th
  • Coach: Ron Myers
  • Key losses: The Wildcatz will be without leading rusher and PCAL-Mission Second Team selection Matthew Barcelo, who finished with 569 rushing yards on 94 carries and 10 touchdowns, according to the MaxPreps website…Tight end Dylan Vargas and Rodrigo Hernandez, both PCAL-Mission First Team selections, are also gone…Louie Guzman, an all-league second team selection, will also be missed in the defensive backfield.
  • Key possible returners: Alex Velazquez (Sr.); The 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back will carry a majority of the load this season as he attempts to replace Matthew Barcelo in the offensive backfield...Blake Mares (Sr.); He will be a good complement to Velazquez in the backfield...Daniel Carlos (Sr.); He was slated to be the starting quarterback but there’s been an interesting battle for the starting position...Joshua Rocha (Jr.); He came into camp fighting to win the starting quarterback position. It will be interesting to see who takes the starting spot leading up to the season opener...Pablo Valle (Sr); The 6-foot-3, 270-pound defensive lineman is a brick wall and will be a huge presence upfront...Ryan Itamura (Sr.); He will play outside linebacker this season and should be able to get to the quarterback several times this season...Adam Dodge (Sr.); He will be the quarterback on defense as the middle linebacker...Nasser Sabla (Jr.): The 5-foot-8 defensive back has looked impressive thus far during camp and this past week in practice. The coaches are expecting a good year from Sabla.  

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PRESEASON

Pajaro Valley High

  • When: Aug. 30
  • Where: Cabrillo College
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state ranking: 986th
  • Last year’s overall record: 3-7
  • Last year’s league record: 1-5 (sixth in PCAL-Santa Lucia division)
  • Coach: Kevin Cordova
  • Notes: The Wildcatz are 11-2 all time — 10-2 in Belgard Kup matches — against the Grizzlies. Watsonville has won two straight against Pajaro Valley, including last year’s 35-6 win...Returning this year is senior Carlos Hernandez, a 6-foot, 202-pound running back, that was an All-PCAL-Santa Lucia division First Team selection...Junior defensive back Martin Gonzalez may only stand 5-foot-3 but he can still lay a hit and speed is his friend on the field. He was called up to the varsity team as a sophomore, which means he knows what it takes to play at the next level…Ladis Silva will be an up and coming receiver and defensive back this season for the Grizzlies...Senior Jose Rocha, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound offensive lineman, came up last season and instantly became a big piece in providing some running lanes for the running backs.

•••

Monterey High

  • When: Sept. 6
  • Where: EM Geiser Field
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state ranking: 356th
  • Last year’s overall record: 11-2 (CCS Division V semifinalist)
  • Last year’s league record: 5-1 (PCAL-Cypress division winner)
  • Coach: Henry Lusk
  • Notes: Monterey will be without All-PCAL-Cypress division Offensive Most Valuable Player Timothy Byrd, who finished with 1,111 yards on 192 carries and 17 touchdowns...Dual-threat quarterback Evans Charles is also gone. He completed 58 percent of his pass attempts (78-of-134) for 865 passing yards and eight touchdowns to his seven interceptions. He also recorded 111 rushing yards on 61 carries and three touchdowns. He played receiver toward the end of the season and his defensive play was good enough to be an all-league first team selection…Another group of All-PCAL-Cypress First Team selections not returning are offensive linemen Jake Romo and Blaine Cruz along with linebacker Javier Espinal-Perez and defensive lineman Darius Garrard...Senior running back Janias Thomas and junior receiver Hendrick Lusk, who was an all-league second team selection, are set to have breakout seasons...Since 2006, the Wildcatz are 2-6 against the Toreadores but have won the previous two matchups. Watsonville defeated Monterey, 41-21, in 2017. 

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St. Francis High

  • When: Sept. 12
  • Where: EM Geiser Field
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state ranking: 772nd
  • Last year’s overall record: 4-6 
  • Last year’s league record: 1-5 (tied for last  in PCAL-Cypress division)
  • Coach: John Ausman
  • Notes: The Wildcatz are 2-0 lifetime against the Sharks. Watsonville won last year’s contest, 16-14...The Sharks will be without linebacker Aaron Soto, defensive back Devin Mcleod and running back Andrew Seymour, who racked up a team-high 579 rushing yards on 66 carries and eight touchdowns. All three players were All-PCAL Santa Lucia division First Team selections…Senior tight end and defensive lineman Lawson Orradre is set to return...Seniors Isaac Davila, Hunter Blinkenberg and Logan Manson are also returning as the big boys up front on the offensive line...Senior Joey Garibay is positioned to begin the season as the team’s starting quarterback.

  •••

Burlingame High

  • When: Sept. 20
  • Where: EM Geiser Field
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state rankings: 926th
  • Last year’s overall record: 11-2 (CCS Division IV champion)
  • Last year’s league record: 5-0 (Ocean League champion)
  • Coach: John Philipopoulos
  • Notes: Burlingame will be without running back Curtis Lauti, who finished with 691 rushing yards on 88 carries and 10 touchdowns…But the Panthers should be in good shape with leading rusher Lucas Meredith coming back. The incoming junior last season finished with 1,211 rushing yards to go along with 22 touchdowns. He also tallied 168 receiving yards on 11 receptions and a pair of touchdowns...Senior Jordan Malashus is set to return as the starting quarterback. Last season, he completed 57 percent of his pass attempts (74-of-128) with 1,107 passing yards and 14 touchdowns to his seven interceptions...Leading receiver Devin Malashus, who finished with 263 yards on 14 receptions and four touchdowns, is also expected to return...The Wildcatz lost last year’s road game, 49-7.

•••

PCAL-CYPRESS

North Monterey County High

  • When: Sept. 27
  • Where: EM Geiser Field
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state ranking: 661st
  • Last year’s overall record: 5-5 
  • Last year’s league record: 3-3 (fourth in PCAL-Cypress division)
  • Coach: Sean Gomes
  • Notes: N.M.C. senior Brandon Ducusin, an All-PCAL-Cypress First Team selection, is coming back as the starting quarterback. He completed 49 percent of his pass attempts (53-of-107) for 762 passing yards to go along with five touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 402 yards on 99 carries and nine touchdowns…Riley Anderson, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior receiver/safety was also an all-league first team selection. He led the team with 206 total tackles and was a ball hawk with three interceptions and 11 pass deflections…Senior Cyrus Coffelt will be an upcoming receiver and defensive back this season…Junior Marcos Calderon, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound lineman came up last season and instantly became a force up front. He can also come in as a defensive end to help cause pressure on the quarterback from the outside.

•••

King City High

  • When: Oct. 11
  • Where: King City High
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state rankings: 646th
  • Last year’s overall record: 5-5
  • Last year’s league record: 4-2 (tied for second in PCAL-Cypress division)
  • Coach: Mac Villanueva
  • Notes: King City has finished with a .500 winning percentage or better in each of the last four seasons…The Mustangs have not won a league title since the mid ‘80s…Since 2007, Watsonville and King City are 1-1. The Mustangs defeated the Wildcatz, 21-16 in 2008…The Mustangs are going to miss defensive back/receiver Luis Briseno, tight end Isaias Gonzales, defensive lineman Gabriel Oritz and linebacker Alex Villasenor, all gone to graduation…The Mustangs, however, do have reigning PCAL-Cypress Lineman of the Year Francisco Sandoval coming back for his senior season.

•••

Soquel High

  • When: Oct. 18
  • Where: EM Geiser Field
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state rankings: 768th
  • Last year’s overall record: 7-3
  • Last year’s league record: 5-1 (second in PCAL-Santa Lucia division)
  • Coach: Dwight Lowery
  • Notes: The Knights were the runner-up team to division champion Gonzales under first-year coach Dwight Lowery...Soquel junior running back Darius Bedford was last year’s Offensive Player of the Year in the Santa Lucia division…Junior quarterback Tanner Jones, senior offensive lineman Jeremiah Corpuz, who were also named to the PCAL-Santa Lucia First Team, are set to return… Soquel will be without the services of defensive lineman David Blanke and defensive back Jarred Martinez…This will be the first time both teams meet since 2016. But it’s the first time since 2005 the Wildcatz and Knights will battle in a league game when they were both members of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League...Watsonville and Soquel had played at least once a year — league or non-league — from 1962 until 2009. 

•••

San Lorenzo Valley High

  • When: Oct. 26
  • Where: S.L.V. High
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state rankings: 522nd
  • Last year’s overall record: 4-6
  • Last year’s league record: 4-2 (second in PCAL-Cypress division)
  • Coach: Dave Poetzinger 
  • Notes: S.L.V. tied with King City for second place behind unbeaten Monterey in the PCAL-Mission division…The Cougars will be without Aidan Callahan, who was named Defensive MVP of the Cypress. He was a first team selection at lineman on both sides of the ball… Running back Taj Glasky, receiver Jacob Auldridge and defensive back Ty Martinez will also be gone…S.L.V. senior R.J. Kindred finished with a pair of interceptions as a defensive back but will also try to step in as the starting quarterback…Junior running back Brodie Brownlee should also see some more playing time…Senior defensive back Matt Stone finished with three interceptions and is set to return...Since 2004, the Wildcatz are 2-8-1 against the Cougars. S.L.V. beat Watsonville in 2014, 27-21.

•••

Gonzales High

  • When: Nov. 1
  • Where: Gonzales High
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state rankings: 715th
  • Last year’s overall record: 11-1
  • Last year’s league record: 6-0 (PCAL-Santa Lucia champion)
  • Coach: Art Berlanga
  • Notes: Gonzales will be without running back Payton Flores, who is the reigning PCAL-Santa Lucia Most Valuable Player. He finished with 2,463 rushing yards on 250 carries and 31 touchdowns, according to MaxPreps.com…The Spartans are also losing a big chunk of their roster including offensive lineman Miguel Arreola, receiver Dominic Emery, quarterback Raul Morales, linebacker Nael Vasquez, defensive lineman Pablo Villaseñor, who were all named to the PCAL-Santa Lucia First Team…Gonzales, however, does have all-league first team defensive back Frank Cisneros, who can also play the receiver position…Gonzales (766) is the second-smallest school in the PCAL-Cypress division in terms of enrollment…The last time both teams met was in 2002. The Wildcatz defeated the Spartans, 34-13.

•••

Santa Cruz High

  • When: Nov. 8
  • Where: EM Geiser Field
  • Last year’s MaxPreps state rankings: 838th
  • Last year’s overall record: 2-8 
  • Last year’s league record: 1-5 (tied for last in PCAL-Cypress division)
  • Coach: Jesse Trumbull
  • Notes: Santa Cruz took a step back after winning its first league title in more than two decades two years ago...The Cardinals will be missing senior offensive lineman Ben Williams, who was a PCAL-Cypress First Team selection…Nathaniel Loza is another skill position player that’s not returning…Alonzo Rodriguez, who was the Cardinals’ leading tackler with 91 tackles, is also gone...Santa Cruz junior receiver Henry Campion, who was also a PCAL-Cypress First Team selection, is set to return. According to the MaxPreps website, last season he finished with 446 receiving yards on 30 receptions and seven touchdowns. He also had a team-high four interceptions and 51 tackles…The rivalry between both team dates back to more than 100 years and is the longest running in California. Since 2004, the Wildcatz are 10-5 against the Cardinals. Watsonville won last year’s contest, 41-14.

•••

Editor’s Note: This entry is part 6 of 6 in a weekly series that will delve in each local high school football program’s schedule. This article will be published in the Aug. 23 edition of The Pajaronian.

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