When the final whistle blew at the St. Mary’s-Bishop O’Dowd varsity football game last Saturday, the Panthers were on the losing end of a 27-6 score. They had been dominated on defense and self-destructed on offense, out-gained by nearly 200 yards on the day.
But with just a few fixes, the Panthers could get right back on track this weekend against El Cerrito.
The most obvious area for St. Mary’s to improve is holding onto the ball. Seven fumbles, including four botched snaps, helped kill any offensive momentum the Panthers managed to build against O’Dowd. Tailback Trestin George, expected to lead the team after a breakout junior year, put the ball on the ground twice, losing one, and the only option play the St. Mary’s coaches called resulted in another turnover after quarterback Steve Murphy threw a blind pitch while being hit. All seven of the mishaps were preventable.
One can count on George to tighten his grip on the ball. One of the most highly-regarded backs in California, he certainly realizes that no college wants to give the ball to a running back who can’t hang on to it. Last week will likely serve as a motivator for George to have a big game against the Gauchos on Saturday.
Another certainty is that the Panthers spent a lot of time in practice this week working on the exchange from center Rodny Acda to Murphy. The two have never worked together before this season, with Murphy playing quarterback full-time for the first time, so only a lot of snaps will smooth out the timing between them.
Another key to the Panthers getting into the end zone, which to offense failed to do against the Dragons, is getting the ball into Chase Moore’s hands. The senior tight end/receiver has the potential to be a game-breaker with his combination of size and speed. He had a 62-yard touchdown catch called back on Saturday on a questionable offensive pass-interference call, the only big play the Panthers mustered on offense against O’Dowd. If Murphy can find Moore matched up against a smaller defensive back, all he has to do is put the ball up for grabs and let Moore use his rebounding skills, developed during his time with the St. Mary’s state championship basketball team last season.
On defense, St. Mary’s must improve against the run. St. Mary’s gave up 250 yards on the ground to O’Dowd, most of them coming behind massive right tackle Michael Gray, so they appear to be vulnerable to strong rushing attacks. The Panthers are fortunate that El Cerrito doesn’t have Chijioke Onyenegecha to run the ball again this year. The tailback scored four touchdowns against them as a senior last year, but the Gauchos don’t have anyone at that level this season.
The Gauchos linemen don’t pose nearly the threat that Gray did. Look for the St. Mary’s defensive line to perform much better against El Cerrito behind the play of juniors Leon Drummer and Julian Taylor. If those two can plug holes in the middle, it will allow the Panthers’ fast linebackers, such as Omarr Flood and Sean Rogan, to run sideline-to-sideline and make plays.