West County footballers shock Santa Rosa in season opener, 35-34

By Greg Clementi, Sports Editor, SoCoNews, September 2, 2021

Senior receiver Ian Hocheder (No. 11) hauled in an 18-yard touchdown grab from quarterback Sammy Long to lift West County to an electrifying, 35-34 win over visiting Santa Rosa in the high school football season opener on Friday. (Photo David Aires)

The West County High School (WCHS) football team couldn’t have scripted a better start to the 2021 campaign on Friday, staging a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback to defeat visiting Santa Rosa, 35-34 in the season opener at Karlson Field.

What began as an offensive showcase developed into a battle of heart and will for the newly formed West County program, a litmus test it passed with flying colors.

“It was a great game for our guys, winning the first game as West County was important to us,” WCHS head coach Dan Bourdon said. “I’m really proud of the way they kept battling.”

West County will face another big test this Friday, Sept. 3 when it visits San Marin in a 7 p.m. varsity kickoff.

Playmakers come up big

The consolidation of El Molino and Analy high schools was on full display in the Aug. 27 season opener, with players from both ends of Highway 116 combining for huge plays all night.

West County junior quarterback Sammy Long logged a spectacular season debut, passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns. The bulk of his passing yards were to former El Mo senior receiver Ian Hocheder, who logged 118 yards receiving and one score.

Hocheder’s biggest play came with just 46 seconds left in the game when Long found him on a crossing pattern from the Panther’s 18 yard line for what proved to be the winning touchdown.

“At times we struggled running the ball on offense and stopping their run on defense, and we had some untimely penalties,” Bourdon noted. “Despite that we had the ball and a chance to go win the game in the last minute, and that’s always an exciting position to be in.”

Seesaw battle

The game was a roller coaster ride from the first whistle, chalked full of frequent lead changes and momentum swings.

Following an early Santa Rosa touchdown, the Tigers got the party started with a first-quarter drive resulting in a short scoring pass from Long to Giovanni Visintin. The PAT boot was good and West County led 7-6.

Good fortune reared its head again late in the first period when defender Anthony Pacheco recovered a Panther’s fumble in their own end zone for a West County touchdown and a 14-6 advantage.

Santa Rosa began to take control with their running game in the second quarter, finding the end zone to cut the deficit to 14-12. The Panthers added another score with 37 seconds left in the half on a drive culminating in a touchdown burst by quarterback Carlitos Pardo. Santa Rosa led 20-14 at the break.

The Panthers extended the lead midway through the third quarter, mounting a long drive resulting in another scoring run from Pardo to grab a 26-14 cushion.

The score would serve as a wake-up call for West County, as Long hooked up with Visintin on the next possession on a 45 yard touchdown strike to close the gap to 26-21. The locals regained the lead on their next series early in the fourth quarter when running back Jaden Brady busted loose on a 46-yard scoring run to make it 28-26 West County.

But the Panthers would not pack it in, re-taking the lead on Pardo’s fourth touchdown run of the game, this one a five-yard keeper for a 34-28 edge with 2:26 remaining.

West County dug deep, as Long drove his team to the Panther’s 18 yard line where Long found Hocheder over the middle for the tying score with 46 ticks left. Kicker Aden Noethig made good on the clutch point-after boot and West County secured a dramatic, 35-34 victory.

Long ended the night with 17 completions on 26 pass attempts for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Hocheder led the receiving corps with six catches for 118 yards and one touchdown. Other offensive standouts were Visintin (3-64 yards receiving, 2 TDs), Brady (8-50 yards rushing, TD) and Joshua Kidd (5-72 yards receiving).

Leading defenders included; Cassius Bradbury (6 tackles, 11 assists,), Andre Pena (6 tackles, 5 assists), Soloman Hall (4 tackles, 3 assists), Lucas Castleberry (2 tackles, 8 assists), Hocheder (3 tackles, 7 assists), Pacheco (3 tackles, 6 assists, FR, TD) and Logan Mitchell (1 tackle, 4 assists).

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