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STORY BY STEPHEN LYNCH
Shafter High football coach Jerald Pierucci is well known for his innovative offensive schemes.
But in the Generals’ season opening game against West High on Friday night, Pierucci chose to keep things simple.
The normally pass happy play caller was content with giving the ball to senior running back Koa Rhodes and watching him go.
Rhodes made his coach look brilliant, rushing 14 times for 207 yards and five touchdowns in the visiting Generals’ 46-6 throttling of the Vikings.
“Koa, we challenged him after last week’s scrimmage,” Pierucci said. “We needed him to stop dancing and we needed him start running hard. And he answered the call.”
Rhodes had plenty of help in carving up the West defense like a Thanksgiving Day turkey.
Shafter’s offensive line, Jeff VanderPoel, Wencelo Flores, Ethan Dunlap, Matthew Cordova, and Parker Valderrama manhandled the Vikings at the line of scrimmage. Numerous times Rhodes went untouched until he was already in the secondary. Most of Rhodes’ attempts were straight up the middle.
“Credit goes to the O-line,” Rhodes said. “They did the job up front, and it led to success for me. All props to them.”
Despite the lopsided final score, it took a while for the Generals offense to get rolling.
After a sloppy first half by both teams, Shafter came out in the second half like a completely different squad. Shafter, which led 13-6 at halftime, scored touchdowns on all three of its third quarter possessions.
Rhodes was responsible for all three TDs. The 6-foot, 165-pound speedster went to work right away after the intermission, ripping off a 16-yard gain on the first play of the second half. Moments later Rhodes broke free for a 59-yard touchdown run, his longest of the night.
“In the second half our O-line just exerted themselves,” Pierucci said. “They dominated up front and our running backs ran hard. There were some of those holes that even my old butt would have been able to run through.”
West’s first two possessions of the third quarter were three-and-outs, and each time the Generals responded with quick scoring drives.
Leading 33-6 after Rhodes’ fifth touchdown of the night, a 33-yard scamper, Shafter junior defensive back Jonathan Escobedo put the game out of reach with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Escobedo’s big play was one of many by the Generals’ defense, which held the Vikings to 131 yards of offense.
Shafter had seven tackles for a loss including sacks by Hector Cruz and Joel Gutierrez.
West’s only points of the night came on a 40-yard touchdown pass by Jack Parks to Zy Reese. Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, Parks zipped a long pass over the middle that was tipped up high in the air by a Shafter defender. Reese, went up and snagged the loose ball before turning around and racing into the end zone.
The Vikings’ offense never ventured further than the Shafter 38-yard line the rest of the game.
“Our defense played great tonight,” Pierucci said. “Coach (Sean) Lozano had a great gameplan for the option. Our kids did a really good job.”
Rhodes didn’t play at all on offense in the fourth quarter. His backup Rafael Roman Amador capped off the scoring with a 55-yard touchdown run with 7:07 remaining in the game.
Shafter’s offense, directed by freshman quarterback Ezekiel Osborne and buoyed by the “Rhodes Graders”, aka Shafter’s O-line, finished with 380 net yards.
Osborne showed a lot of poise but only passed for 44 yards in his first varsity start.
Parks, who was harassed by Shafter’s fierce pass rush all game long, finished 5 of 11 for 60 yards passing.
“Hats off to Shafter,” West coach Derrick Dunham said. “They’re a well-coached team. Fundamentally sound. They made great adjustments. Right off the bat, they punched us in the mouth in the second half and I don’t think we ever recovered from that. But for our guys, I’m proud of the effort. A lot of guys playing varsity football for the first time. I think the speed of the game, the moment was a little much tonight.”
Despite the blowout victory, Pierucci wasn’t completely pleased with his team’s performance.
“A lot of good things but we still have a lot to clean up.” Pierucci said.”
Shafter 46, West 6
Shafter 7 6 27 6-46
West 0 6 0 0-6
S-Rhodes 4 run (Guerrero kick)
W-Reese 40 pass from Parks (run failed)
S- S-Rhodes 18 run (kick failed)
S-Rhodes 59 run (Guerrero kick)
S-Rhodes 1 run (kick failed)
S-Rhodes 33 run (Guerrero kick)
S- Escobedo 42 interception return (Guerrero kick)
S-Roman-Amador 55 run (kick failed)
RUSHING-Shafter: Rhodes 14-207, Roman-Amador 3-81, Espinoza 7-52, Osborne 1-5, Vasquez 2-2, Team 1-(-11); West: Laulusa 8-30, Doster 2-17, Cromwell 2-15, Navarro 4-11, Castro 2-1, Team 1-(-1), Parks 14-(-2).
PASSING-Shafter: Osborne 7-15-1-44; West: Parks 5-11-1-60.
RECEIVING-Shafter: Bernal 4-25, Vasquez 2-14, Aguirre 1-5; West: Reese 1-40, Leon 2-14, Salazar 2-6.
RECORDS: Shafter 1-0; West 0-1.
JV-Shafter 32, West 14.