SONOMA — Sonoma Valley was hooting all right. The game against was about to start against Analy Friday night and the Sonoma Valley players were feeling it. The Dragons were confident, had played well so far this season and, sure, why not, ratchet up the emotion. This is football, not a visit to the library, and so the players moved up and down their sideline, bouncing high on their feet. No one was standing. Everyone was moving, somewhere, sprinting, jumping, screaming, pounding shoulder pads to get a drum beat going, it seemed.
The Dragons were on the edge all right, that edge in which something good was going to happen. The gooseflesh they raised was the evidence.
Then, on the fourth play of the game, Analy running back Ja'Narrick James touched the ball and it all changed.
James took the handoff from quarterback Will Smith and sprinted right. As what happens so often with him, everyone around him seemed to slow down as he sped up. James did a quick juke to the left and went like a bullet down the Sonoma Valley sideline, untouched and now, of course, certainly unloved by the Sonoma Valley fans. It was a 55-yard touchdown run. Only 46 seconds had elapsed in the game. And yet the tempo had been set.
The home crowd and its home team dialed down all that enthusiasm and sideline gymnastics. One could feel the collective exhale, as if James just in that run had taken the air out of all of them. It was that noticeable.
"Players like to make a lot of noise before the game and that's OK, that's football," James said. "Then, if I can, I like to silence them. I try to set the tempo."
The tempo was set. Analy cruised to a 44-14 victory, a running clock in the fourth quarter always the telltale sign.
So I asked the Sonoma Valley head coach what he liked about the game.
Bob Midgley paused, said initially, "I don't know ... "
He paused again.
He was working hard on the question.
"Umm ... "
And then finally he was left with no other option, Midgley said, "I don't know if I liked anything about this game. They didn't do anything we hadn't seen. They just out-athlete'd us."
Meaning, Analy controlled the line of scrimmage, blitzed Sonoma Valley quarterback Dan Deely so much he probably saw hands grabbing at him while he was sleeping Friday night.
It was as if Sonoma Valley was playing uphill the whole game and nothing was more obvious of that than James, who seemed to be running downhill the whole game.
James ran for four touchdowns of 55, 3, 4 and 3 yards — all in the first half. It was the first time in his high school career he had done that. Four touchdowns from anyone in a game is a sight to remember but James provided even a more memorable mosaic.
He's 5-foot-4, 145 pounds. He's not slight but stocky, stocky strong, six-pack abdominals a physical testament to that, and without question James sees his height as an advantage.
"I'm so low to the ground already that it's hard for me to just fall," said James, known by a lot of nicknames including "Skittles," the candy.