The Valdez High School football team struggled with ball security in the second half of its 63-7 loss to the Monroe Catholic Rams on Friday at Kiwanis Field, with four turnovers in the second half, all resulting in touchdowns, with two being touchdown returns.
Monroe led 20-7 going into halftime and a 40-point third quarter put a running clock into effect for the fourth quarter. Both teams relied heavily on the run game, with only four pass attempts between both teams, resulting in a quick contest that ended in under three hours.
Monroe running back Garren Nicholson led the Rams with 129 yards rushing and contributed two touchdowns with a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 34-yard touchdown in the third.
“This summer and all this year, we’ve been working our hardest because we’ve got so many new kids that we were worried about this season, but I’m not worried no more,” the junior said after the Rams advanced to 2-0 on the season.
The Rams young roster includes two players from Tri-Valley High School in Healy. Neither of the two played football before this year. Without the duo, Monroe would not have had enough players for a complete team.
One of those essential novices, junior David Smith, recorded his first tackle in Friday’s game. He also blocked a punt in the first quarter, and the Rams found the end zone three plays later.
“It goes to show you how much kids can learn in a short period of time,” Rams head coach Marcus Cogley said. “The kids are super-coachable, so it’s great to be able to tell them something and they can easily start picking it up.”
Friday’s game was the Rams second game of the season, because last week’s contest against Nikiski was canceled due to wildfires. The Rams won their first game against Seward 44-38, but not without a struggle. The team played the majority of the second half with only 10 players on the field after injuries and an unsportsmanlike call depleted the already small 13-man roster.
Three athletes joined the team since Monroe’s opener against Seward: Isaiah Larson, Tommy Bast and Dawson Weber.
Larson replaced Jordan Higbee at quarterback, allowing Higbee to return to his former position at wide receiver, where the senior said he “feels at home again.”
Larson contributed 70 yards rushing and two touchdowns, one on defense with a 46-yard fumble recovery.
“I was nervous at first, leading a whole bunch of guys and being a sophomore, but we are a family and we all understand that I need to take control,” Larson said.
Higbee didn’t see much action at wide receiver — Larson only attempted one pass through four quarters — but he contributed significantly on special teams with a 79-yard kickoff return touchdown, a 40-yard field goal and six extra points.
Newcomer Tommy Bast also made his presence known, rushing for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
Two touchdowns came on defensive plays in the third quarter. Mason Maramuto recovered a Valdez fumble in the end zone and Ryan Robinson stripped the ball and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Buccaneers are now 1-2 on the season after last week’s 32-6 win over Seward and a 47-0 loss to Houston in week one.
Valdez head coach Lee Chadwick attributed the Buccaneers struggle with ball security to an inexperienced backfield. Varsity starting quarterback Gage Critchlow was injured Thursday and Friday was sophomore quarterback Josh Baczuk’s first varsity game.
Senior running back Owen Chadwick was also sidelined with an injury, and veteran running backs Jona Turner and Hayden Howard were injured in the first quarter. Turner contributed the team’s single touchdown.
“It went south real quick,” Chadwick said. “Those guys are also a huge part of what we do defensively.
“It was just one of those things where we aren’t up to strength right now, and that hurt us quite a bit.”
Despite Monroe and Valdez both being Division III Aurora Conference members, the game does not count as a conference contest. Friday’s game was originally scheduled as a matchup between the Monroe and Homer High School, and Valdez was scheduled to play at Nikiski High School today, but wildfires led to the cancellations of both contests. Instead of taking bye weeks, the Rams and Buccaneers decided to play a preview to the official conference game set for Sept. 28 at Kiwanis Field.
Chadwick is unsure whether his team will be in better shape come September’s game.
“We have a couple of injuries that might be long term and we are just kind of going week to week. But we don’t have (Monroe) for another month, but we have some tough games between now and then, too, so we’ll see where we are at.”
Monroe next plays at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Redington. Valdez plays Eielson at 1 p.m. Sept 7 at home.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530.