Big plays, a solid running game, an elusive quarterback, and a swarming Yellow’Jacket defense are all things Berkeley High football fans can look forward to this upcoming season. If the ‘Jackets can improve their special teams play and limit their penalties, Berkeley High football fans can look forward to a trip to the playoffs.
The ‘Jackets kicked off the regular season and their second season under head coach Gary Weaver with a tough 20-7 loss to a Foothill Falcon team tabbed by many to repeat as EBAL division champions after winning last year’s East Bay 2A Championship.
However, it was Foothill that appeared to stumble out of the gates – literally – early on. The Falcons provided a dose of pregame humor for those in attendance by running and stumbling through a ten-foot-long banner as they took the field. And after Foothill’s opening kickoff to Berkeley sailed out of bounds, it was the Falcons that were shooting themselves in the foot early on.
But Berkeley quarterback Nitoto Muhammed was picked off by Falcon defensive back Scott Cooper on his very first passing attempt and the young Yellow’Jackets, returning just seven starters from last year’s squad, suddenly had to clamp down on Foothill’s offense.
The ‘Jacket defense did just that. On their first defensive sequence of the season, Berkeley pushed the Foothill offense back four yards and forced a punt. The defense played solidly all game long, as the ‘Jackets swarmed in on tackles and contained the Falcon rushing attack.
On offense, the ‘Jacket running game clicked with Ramone Reed, Germey Baird, and Muhammed all carrying the ball. Reed showed little signs of fatigue in adjusting to playing both tailback and linebacker full-time by rushing for a game high 110 yards on 12 carries, while Baird rattled off 22 yards on 3 carries. Muhammed directed the option attack with 35 yards on 9 carries.
In addition to his contribution to the ground game, Muhammed completed nine of his 19 pass attempts for 85 yards. Weaver utilized his quarterback’s elusiveness and speed by calling rollouts and bootlegs. Looking back, it is a wonder Muhammed was only sacked once during the game, as the Falcon defense relentlessly stacked the line with eight defenders. When Muhammed was not bursting ahead for yardage, he was delivering passes to five different receivers. Anthony Franklin led all ‘Jacket receivers with three receptions for 34 yards and scored a 12-yard touchdosn in the second quarter when Muhammed bought time in the pocket, escaped an oncoming Falcon rush, and lofted a picture perfect pass to a wide open Franklin in the back of the end zone.
Throughout the night, however, the battle for field position found Berkeley at a keen disadvantage. Both of Foothill’s first two touchdowns were a result of poor special teams play by the ‘Jackets. The Falcons received a gift after a botched punt gave them possession at Berkeley’s 22 yard line. Foothill then scored on a six-play drive that ended in an Ian Anderson rushing TD on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line. Until that scoring drive, Berkeley had held the Falcon offense to just 25 yards on 10 offensive plays. Berkeley’s next offensive series led to a punt that traveled just six yards after a misplaced snap. The Falcons had the ball again in Berkeley territory, this time traveling 45 yards on three plays in a short drive that ended with a two yard TD run by rb Brandon Strickler.
After Muhammed threw an interception on the ensuing Berkeley possession, it appeared as though the Falcons would score again with 33 yards separating them from the endzone and three minutes left in the first half. But the ‘Jacket defense rose to the challenge and forced a Foothill punt. Berkeley’s offense then marched on a six play, 48 yard drive that cumulated in Franklin’s TD reception. Weaver and his coaching staff masterminded the impressive drive by working both the left and the right side of the field with rollouts, bootlegs, and misdirection plays. The ‘Jackets struck with their passing game, as five of the six play calls saw Muhammed zip the ball through the air.
The second half saw the ‘Jackets dominate the time of possession but fail to capitalize on Foothill’s mistakes. Foothill missed two field goals and failed to convert both of their fourth-down opportunities. With time winding down in the fourth quarter, Weaver called for four straight passing plays that failed to move the chains. The Falcons took over at Berkeley’s 20-yard line and tight end Jared Kenitzer’s post pattern left him wide open, as he reeled in a 22-yard TD to push the Falcon lead to 13 points in a game much closer than the final score indicated.
The Yellow’Jackets (0-1,0-0) continue the regular season with a road contest at James Logan at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15th.