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Montgomery High School may have found the perfect fit for head football coach.

Vertis Patton, in his first head coaching gig, is poised to deliver the Vikings their first winning season since 2013 as well as the first winning league season in as many years.

They could even win the title in the new North Bay League-Redwood Division.

More importantly, though, his young athletes are learning forethought, trust and leadership skills, he said.

An illustration of Patton’s values is a key decision he made this year, one not related to wins and losses. About three weeks ago, he stopped the team’s weightlifting program and replaced it with Homework Club.

“That’s what’s important to us as a program and to me,” Patton said. “We want to have a good season and we want to finish strong, but it’s more about the grades. We’re teaching them how to be responsible, to figure out what they have to do, to plan ahead. If they start doing that now, it will be better for them in life.”

The Vikings are 7-2 overall and 3-0 with one game left in league play — at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home against El Molino.

If they win, a division title is assured with a 4-0 league record. El Molino (1-1) could finish no better than 2-2 if Montgomery comes out on top Friday, and second-place Santa Rosa has one loss — to the Vikings earlier in the season.

If the Vikings lose, it gets more complicated. Depending on next week’s results, the division could end up in a three-way tie with Montgomery, El Molino and Santa Rosa all 3-1.

In the NBL-Oak Division, the standings are a little clearer. First-place Cardinal Newman (3-0) is in a solid position, with games against Maria Carrillo (0-3) Friday and Analy (1-2) next week. Rancho Cotate (2-1) plays Analy Friday and Ukiah (2-1) next week. Ukiah visits Windsor (1-2) Friday.

While things could change, a league title is in the Cardinals’ hands if they win out.

“We control our own destiny,” Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “But we’ve never talked about a league title. … We hope to continue to play a lot more weeks and continue to play better every week. When the season’s over, the banners are fun to look at, but not until the season’s over.”

Despite Carrillo’s record, Cronin said the Pumas shouldn’t be underestimated.

Patton knows that. The Vikings’ tough nonleague game against Carrillo was pivotal.

Montgomery started out with an opening-night loss and was 3-2 after five games, but pulled out a gutsy 37-30 double-overtime win over Carrillo on Sept. 21.

In that game, the Pumas jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter and led 27-13 going into the fourth quarter. But the Vikings scored 14 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes to tie the game — and eventually pulled out a win in the second overtime period.

They haven’t lost since.

“The kids believed after that,” Patton said. “They believed they could win. They believed they could come back. They bought into the coaches after that, knowing they had a couple different staffs over last few years.

“And they knew they could hold us accountable just like we hold them accountable. At that point, it switched on. They believed what we were telling them and teaching them. They could trust us. From that moment, they’ve been all in.”

Patton feels fortunate to have won the job at Montgomery, which has had a couple different coaches in the past three years, and hasn’t had a winning team in years.

Montgomery won section titles in 1996, 2000 and 2004, but has had only five winning seasons since.

In the past three years, the Vikings were 8-21 overall and 3-16 in the North Bay League — including finishing 0-7 in 2016 and 1-4 last season.

Patton’s reputation was that of an up-and-comer in local football, Montgomery athletic director Dean Haskins said.

“I heard he was somebody that was a good program builder who does a great job communicating with kids, helps focus on getting their grades up, is social media savvy — which is a big deal these days with this generation. And he has a good football mind, too,” Haskins said. “But mainly he was someone who was capable of rebuilding this program to where it used to be.”

Patton, who moved to Santa Rosa with his mother when he was 6, graduated from Santa Rosa High. He was an All-American wide receiver at Mendocino College until an injury sidelined him.

He coached youth football and for the past four years was the junior varsity head coach and varsity position coach at Carrillo under Jay Higgins.

He said he’s committed to Montgomery.

“I love the game, love being around the kids, love giving back, teaching them things we may not have known when we were younger, the opportunities they can have with this game,” Patton said. “I’m thankful we are able to do that. I’m going nowhere.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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