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Padecky: No close call this time — Casa Grande at the top of its game


PETALUMA — Windsor never looked comfortable, confident or in control Saturday night. Windsor never looked like it was playing downhill, a term that represents momentum, a surge, a push, that sense in which the opposing defense is scrambling to catch its breath and keep pace.

The final score was 42-7, Casa Grande, and, frankly, I didn't see this one coming.

"Windsor is the most improved team in the NBL this season," Casa defensive assistant Les Richardson said before the game. "They are playing really well."

The Jaguars scored 28 points when they lost to Casa on Nov. 1. They were within seven points of the Gauchos in the fourth quarter that day and have been playing better since. So this game, the assumption went, would be too close to call. The assumption, however, failed to take one thing into account.

"We are at the top of our game right now," Casa coach Trent Herzog said. "We have never played better than we are right now."

If that statement sounds like an embarrassment of riches — a 12-0 team at the peak of performance — it is not drippy hyperbole fashioned out of an overactive imagination. The Gauchos' skill and execution is as real and solid as real and solid can be, and Saturday night such a pronouncement was never more obvious than the following sentence.

Casa Grande is more than the JaJuan Lawson-John Porchivina Show.

Yes, sure, Lawson ran for a couple of touchdowns and threw for another. Porchivina caught a 74-yard touchdown pass and on the run delivered a hit on a Windsor defender that could have cracked the kid's helmet like a walnut.

So that Casa scored 42 points Saturday night was not a surprise. It was Casa's sixth consecutive game in which it scored at least 40 points. What was the surprise, however, was the seven Windsor points, the 76 total yards of offense Windsor gained at halftime and the seven Casa quarterback sacks.

"Before halftime," Casa defensive tackle Nick Pleinnkul said, "I could see he was annoyed. I could see he would look around with nowhere to go."

Pleinnkul was speaking about Windsor quarterback Colin McAlvain. McAlvain was a precision instrument the week before when Windsor stunned Rancho Cotate. McAlvain was 12-for-20 with 179 yards and a touchdown in that game. Saturday night, McAlvain was 12-for-24 for 102 yards and two interceptions.

During the week leading up to this game, Herzog had emphasized to his defense that McAlvain needed to feel like an onion on a hot skillet. The best pass defense, no matter what the level of play, is the one that makes a quarterback feel like he's standing in the middle of a prison break. No matter where he looks, he is surrounded by unfriendly uniforms.

"I rode Nick hard this week," Herzog said. "He had been banged up a little this season, but now he was healthy and coming into his own. Yes, I was hard on him. But I expected him to dominate. When he's 100 percent, like he's now, he's a beast."

Pleinnkul, a senior, is 6-foot-3, 245 pounds. He has the physical prototype of a pass rusher. Pleinnkul had two of Casa's seven sacks and his strategy was not unique but effective — he used his size and strength to overpower Windsor offensive linemen.

"I thought my size could be a factor," Pleinnkul said.

Sometimes complex strategy isn't necessary. Sometimes it's a matter of having more physical talent. Sometimes it doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

"We decided we were going to blitz more than we usually do," Herzog said. "McAlvain is too good a quarterback to let him just sit back there. He'll pick you apart."

The game was just 90 seconds old when the tempo and the final result became obvious. Windsor received the opening kickoff and went three and out. On Casa's first play from scrimmage, Lawson broke off a 64-yard run.

This is like landing the first punch in a boxing match with the crowd still finding its seat. It appeared irrevocable, as odd as this may read, that the outcome had so quickly been set in stone. Windsor, for all the momentum and development it had earned coming into the game, never looked like the team that shocked Rancho.

Of course, Casa had everything to do with that, that's what was so impressive about the victory. Casa had fumbled four times, losing one. At halftime, Casa had seven penalties. A lesser team might have taken its foot off the pedal a bit; mistakes always can disrupt rhythm and confidence. A lesser team might have had to gather itself, lower its pulse, take a breath.

That's what a lesser team might do. Casa is not one of those lesser teams. Rather, it is providing the dream all coaches in all sports want to have but rarely do — a team with much talent and skill is playing its best when it matters most.

Of such a simple statement champions are born.

(You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.)