Benefield: SRJC football faces must-win matchup

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When the Santa Rosa Junior College football team heads south to take on City College of San Francisco Saturday, it represents not only a must-win situation in Bay 6 Conference play for the Bear Cubs, but a deja vu showdown between two of the most prolific prep quarterbacks to play in the Redwood Empire in recent years.

The Bear Cubs, 5-3 overall and 1-2 in the Bay 6, are led by freshman Jake Simmons, who — as a senior at Rancho Cotate last season — put up outrageous numbers every week while leading the Cougars to a 10-2 season before losing to Cardinal Newman in the North Coast Section semifinals.

As a senior, Simmons threw for 3,574 yards with a completion rate of 65 percent. He tossed for 46 touchdowns and had just eight interceptions.

On the other side of the field Saturday will be 2017 Analy High grad Jack Newman. Newman threw for 4,488 yards as a senior in 2016, with an average of 345 yards per game. He had 55 touchdowns on the season and just five picks.

In their only head-to-head meeting in high school, Analy beat Rancho in, yes, an offensive shootout, 63-46.

And check out these stat lines from that 2016 game: Newman was 22-of-28 for 434 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Simmons, a junior when the two teams met that year, was 30-of-39 for 562 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Their quarterback ratings? Newman’s was 157 and Simmons was 157.9.

So fast-forward to Saturday’s 1 p.m. game and the reunion of these two arms. Expect a shootout. The Bear Cubs are putting up an average of 31 points per game and the Rams average 34 points a game.

Since winning the starting job for the resurgent Bear Cubs, Simmons has been nearly as prolific for Santa Rosa as he was as a prep star.

He has thrown for 2,044 yards in eight games (not all of them complete outings), and has a completion rate of 55 percent. He has 20 TDs to seven interceptions.

On the other side, Newman has thrown for 2,588 yards in eight games, running up a completion rate of 62 percent. He has thrown for 24 touchdowns and been picked off 10 times.

While Newman’s numbers sparkle a little more, Simmons is a bigger dual threat. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Simmons has more total rushing yards than any other Bear Cub.

“When the pass protection breaks down, of course he’s got the green light,” Santa Rosa coach Lenny Wagner said. “He has some big gains.

“We have to rely on the passing game and (Simmons’) ability to escape,” Wagner said.

For San Francisco, that’s less of an option.

Among Newman’s incredible stats is this number: 44. He’s been sacked 44 times this season. It’s not a typo — I checked with head coach Jimmy Collins.

“We haven’t had a sack number like that in … ever,” he said.

Newman is a pocket passer by design. And a hyper-accurate and talented one. But Collins said in the Rams’ two losses this season, they got behind, “got predictable and had to pass.”

Add to that a young offensive line and a first-year college quarterback learning to not hang on to the ball quite so long and you’ve got, well, you’ve got 44 sacks.

Collins said he’s made adjustments to bring that number within the realm of the reasonable. “We’ve made some moves on the offensive line,” he said. “They are improving exponentially.”

The Rams gave up two sacks in their Oct. 27 38-13 win over Chabot.

Collins called Newman durable and acknowledged that was perhaps the one knock on the guy coming out of Analy — his size.

As a senior, he was listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds. He’s upped that to 200 pounds, according to San Francisco staff.

“He’s not a little guy,” Collins said. “He really has hit the weight room hard. Not just lifting weights, but overall physical exercise, stretching, swimming.

“He has taken some big-time hits and it hasn’t fazed him at all,” he said.

To still be standing after 44 sacks in eight games, you’d have to be durable. You’d have no choice.

And though the stats may point to an offensive shootout Saturday, Wagner said he’s keen to see his special teams unit do something special.

While Simmons was the star of the Bear Cubs’ 47-40 OT win over Chabot (how about this stat line: 39-of-59 for 553 yards, four TDs and no interceptions), there were some other keys to that win. And they have been keys all season, Wagner said.

Freshman Keven Nguyen, who prepped at Rancho Cotate, hit four field goals on the night from 19, 31, 32 and 42 yards. He was also 5-of-5 on his point-after attempts. His longest field goal on the season is 47 yards and he hasn’t missed a PAT in 29 tries.

“He’s really, really talented,” Wagner said.

And punter Seth Vernon, a sophomore out of Maria Carrillo, is giving the Bear Cubs second chances every week with his kicks.

“I think we have 10 takeaways on special teams,” Wagner said. “Our punter has about six of them.”

“He kicks it above the lights,” Wagner said, giving the Bear Cubs — namely Travis Voight, a freshman from Casa Grande, and Charles Turner-Cox, a sophomore from Baltimore — the chance to swarm.

“Those two have wreaked absolute havoc on teams this year,” he said. “That’s been our ace in the hole. You get a couple of takeaways and the momentum changes really fast.”

He thinks both Nguyen and Vernon, along with receiver Lucas Triplett, a Fort Bragg grad, are on their way to All-American honors.

In the Bay 6 there is no room for error. Both teams need a win — Santa Rosa, with a 1-2 record, needs it more if the Bear Cubs want to see the postseason.

“For us to have any chance, it’s a must-win,” Wagner said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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