Prep football: Analy buoyed by season's strong start

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Before the final game of the season last year, five Analy High School football players — all seniors and the elected captains — quit the team.

The rest of the team, then 3-7 and 1-3 in the North Bay League Oak Division, promptly got clobbered by Cardinal Newman, 48-6, to slam the door on a dismal year for the Tigers.

It was the first losing season the Tigers had weathered since 2010, a stretch when they won four Sonoma County League championships in a row.

Third-year coach James Foster says no one should mistake this year’s squad for that team.

The 2019 Tigers displayed gutsy character Friday in their comeback overtime victory over host Santa Rosa, 26-20, in the first game of the season.

“We had some juniors who played hard and made big plays,” Foster said. “They hung in there.”

Santa Rosa was a little surprised at how well the Tigers played.

“The coaching staff did a great job. We never expected them to come out the way they did,” Panthers coach Russell Ponce said. “It took us a while to adjust.”

Foster said his team has adjusted as well, changing the attitude that seeped into the end of the season last year.

“This year, I do think that our team is a little more together,” he said. “It’s not as many individuals out there playing football. Instead it’s a group of guys working together. I think that bodes well for the rest of the season.”

Last year’s 1-4 record was an unceremonious welcome into the new league configuration, where they landed in the stronger Oak Division because of their traditional dominance in the SCL.

Having five seniors, including some of the skill-position players, walk out when the team wasn’t performing well was frustrating, Foster said.

“That showed what the mentality of the team was throughout the year,” he said. “When the going got tough, they were OK with hanging it up rather than fighting through it.

“That’s the difference this year.”

Players who were juniors last year had to step up in a hurry and take leadership positions. Those kids are now seniors and leading the Tigers in what Foster expects to be a more competitive NBL-Oak season.

“They understand the feeling of guys quitting on them. They were ready to take charge this year and say, ‘That’s not what you do when things are not going well,’” Foster said.

Already, the first game’s result is better than 2018.

Also opening against Santa Rosa last year, the Panthers crushed Analy 34-3. Winning a thriller in OT to start the season gives the Tigers a good bump.

Foster hopes this week will be the opposite of last year’s Week 2 as well, when the Tigers came up short to Encinal, 42-28. Encinal defeated Washington of Fremont, 40-0, last week.

Competing against bigger, better teams in the early season is all part of the learning curve, Foster said, and athletes should know they’re going to take some knocks.

He hopes the challenges his team encounters in the nonleague games prepare the players for a better NBL league schedule, where Cardinal Newman, Rancho Cotate, Windsor, Ukiah and Maria Carrillo await come October.

“The new league alignment just ends up with a tougher schedule for us overall,” he said. “There are really no easy games. Every single week you know you’re in for a dogfight. There’s no opponent to look past.”

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

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