SRJC football faces stout San Mateo defense Saturday

Santa Rosa's passing game has emerged as a real threat.|

Santa Rosa Junior College football fans will have an opportunity to find out what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object as the No. 10 Bear Cubs and their talented passing offense face off with No. 11 College of San Mateo's stingy pass defense at 1 p.m. Saturday in San Mateo.

Santa Rosa came into the season with a lot of questions. What will be the strengths of this team? What will be its weaknesses? Who will be the quarterback?

Halfway through the regular season, as they prepare for their conference opener, many of their questions have been answered.

Santa Rosa's passing game has emerged as a real threat. The offensive line, which appeared unstable entering the season, has come together to protect Jake Simmons, who has emerged as a more than competent starting quarterback.

And the Bear Cubs' defense, which was expected to be their strength, still has a lot of room for improvement.

“Really, we didn't tackle very well,” Santa Rosa head coach Lenny Wagner said about allowing 42 points in a win against Feather River two weeks ago before a bye week.

“Usually, if you tackle well, you usually win,” Wagner said. “So we've been working on tackling, working on making sure we're in the best position possible to allow us to make a tackle.”

The season started on a low note with a loss to Fresno but has turned around quickly with two close wins over Butte College, and Feather River College. Those and the Bear Cubs' two wins over Shasta and College of the Sequoias have them standing at 4-1, tied for first in the Bay 6 conference.

“We're excited to get into the Bay 6 conference games,” Wagner said. “It's like having a bowl game every single week, and we're up for the challenge.”

Santa Rosa enters the conference season on a four-game win streak and ranked No. 2 in passing yards in the Bay 6, despite taking the first three games to establish Simmons as the starting quarterback.

The freshman Simmons, a Rancho Cotate High School product, has shared passing duties with sophomore QB Kaylor Sullivan to begin the season.

“Honestly, I know Jake and I know Jake is a great quarterback, so I have confidence in him that when he goes in, he's going to get the job done. So it hasn't been too hard on me,” Sullivan said. “But obviously as a quarterback and as a football player you want to play the whole game.”

Simmons has settled into offensive coordinator Vick Amick's system and in his last two games he has thrown for 568 yards and six touchdowns, all while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes.

“(Simmons) has been getting better every week. He and Kaylor have been getting better every week. (Sullivan's) had a really good week of practice so I wouldn't be surprised if we saw both guys out there this Saturday,” Wagner said.

The Bulldogs will surely test whoever is at quarterback for Santa Rosa's offense as they come in ranked No.1 in passing defense for the conference, allowing only an astonishing 128.4 passing yards per game.

“They're a very good football team,” Wagner said. “I also have a lot of respect for their offense, which is a triple-option offense and is very detail-oriented.”

San Mateo's weakness lies in its run defense, allowing a conference-worst average of 161.4 yards per game.

In the Bear Cubs' last game, the double-overtime win against Feather River, Simmons showed he could also produce on the ground, gaining 132 yards on only eight attempts.

If Simmons can put up another impressive performance and Santa Rosa's defense can fend off the Bulldogs' strong rushing attack, the Bear Cubs could start their conference season undefeated, on track to get back to the playoffs after missing them the previous season.

“We know that we'll get the job done because we've been well coached, and we've learned and watched their plays enough to where we know where the holes are, and we know where things are going to work,” Sullivan said.

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