A group of North Monterey County High defenders bring down St. Francis High senior running back Gavin Valencia during the teams' PCAL Mission North Division opener Sept. 22. The Sharks fell to the Condors, 26-0, in league action. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

After a month of working out the kinks during preseason, St. Francis High was back on track and looking like a team destined to make a possible run at a league title.  

Instead, the Sharks got off to a rocky start to begin Pacific Coast Athletic League play following a 26-0 loss to North Monterey County High in Mission North Division action Sept. 22. 

“I felt like we fought hard, we just didn’t execute when it came down to it,” St. Francis High junior quarterback Javier Fonseca said. “They were just the better team tonight.”

It was the first league-opening loss since 2019 for St. Francis, which finished with a split 2-2 record in the preseason portion of its schedule with wins against Stevenson and Pajaro Valley.

Fonseca was sidelined after he suffered a minor groin injury on his right leg during the third quarter of last week’s game. 

St. Francis was also without standout receiver Pedro Ibarra who missed last week’s game due to illness. 

“Junior [Ibarra] is a playmaker and a key cog,” Ausman said. “When you suit up 22 guys and when you miss one out of that caliber, no excuses, but it makes it hard. We missed him, but I love how the guys filled in for him and came out.”

NMC (2-3, 1-0) came into Friday night’s game fresh off its 41-13 non-league win over Harbor High and played competitively in losses to Christopher, Alisal and Sobrato high schools. 

Senior running back Ryan Ruiz recorded three touchdowns—two rushing and one receiving—to help the Condors soar past the Sharks. He said a challenging preseason schedule and more time spent in the weight room helped NMC prepare for what lies ahead in league play.

“At times, it can be kind of demotivating losing a lot of games but when we come to play these guys, we’ve seen people that we think are better so it’s easier on us,” Ruiz said.

It was also a bit of redemption for the Condors and Ruiz who last season lost to St. Francis, 48-0. 

“We’ve been through a lot of hard times,” he said. “We came back with vengeance and we really want to win for this crowd that loves us and supports us. So that’s what it was all about.”

The truth is NMC was far bigger up front and controlled the line of scrimmage from the get-go.

On the Condors’ first possession of the game, Chris Rasmussen had a big gain that got them down to the red zone. But they turned the ball over, stalling what could’ve been a game-opening scoring drive. 

The Sharks also turned the ball over on their opening possession when Fonseca tossed an interception to Damian Hernandez. 

NMC capitalized on the mistake after Ruiz broke a couple of tackles and sprinted down the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown run, giving them a 6-0 lead following the missed extra point attempt.

Linebacker DJ Gomez was all over the field for NMC including a big stop on 4th down that forced another Sharks turnover, leading to Ruiz’s second TD of the evening and a 12-0 lead going into halftime. 

North Monterey County head coach Juan Cuevas led the Condors to a Homecoming game victory for the first time since he took over the program in 2020. This year he also took over both offensive and defensive coordinator jobs. 

“It’s a lot of work on me, it’s stressful, it wears me out but these kids are worth it,” he said.

St. Francis couldn’t catch a break the entire night, especially on the offensive side after several penalties negated big gains. 

On defense, the Sharks’ defense also had a chance to recover a fumble following a backward pass from Gomez to Ruiz but instead the ball went out of bounds.

To make matters even worse, St. Francis fumbled the opening kick off to begin the third quarter.

Gomez redeemed himself after nearly turning the ball over and tossed a 35-yard strike to Ruiz for the score and a commanding 20-0 lead.

“We kind of kept giving it to them all night and that’s what happens when you play football hard,” Ruiz said.

Ausman summed up the game in a nutshell.

“North Monterey County took advantage of some of our mistakes and that’s what a team does that beats you,” he said. 

The Sharks will regroup this week and go back to the drawing board for their PCAL Mission North Division meeting at Scotts Valley (3-1) on Saturday at 2pm.

Week 5 Scoreboard

Seaside 41, At Monte Vista Christian 27: Junior quarterback Dominic Pierini tossed three touchdown passes for the Mustangs in their loss to the Spartans in PCAL Mission North Division play Sept. 22.

Pierini completed 30-of-43 pass attempts for 422 yards and one interception. He leads the Central Coast Section with 1,429 passing yards to go along with 16 TDs in five games played this season.

Fellow teammate Nico Downie had a team-best nine receptions for 141 yards and one TD.  

Senior Connor Pallott had 7 receptions for 157 yards and one touchdown, along with 72 yards rushing on 11 carries and one TD for MVC, which have lost back-to-back games after starting with three straight wins.

Senior Aidan Johnson had a 2-yard touchdown reception for the Mustangs (3-2, 0-1), who will play at North Monterey County (2-3, 1-0) on Friday at 7:30pm.

Pajaro Valley 18, At San Lorenzo Valley 7: The Grizzlies snapped a four-game losing skid following a win over the Cougars in PCAL Santa Lucia Division action Sept. 23. 

Pajaro Valley seems to be jelling following a scoring drought in the first three games to start the 2023 season. 

The Grizzlies (1-4, 1-0) will head into the bye week prior to their league game at Gonzales High on Oct. 6 at 7:30pm.

Watsonville 49, At Santa Cruz 0: Junior running back Alex Arevalo had three touchdowns for the Wildcatz in their crushing win over the Cardinals in PCAL Mission North Division play Sept. 22. 

Senior receiver Isaac Urbina had a 50-yard rushing touchdown, while fellow teammate sophomore Matthew Silva had a 95-yard interception returned for a TD. 

Patrick Miller-Brown recorded a touchdown reception for Watsonville (2-3, 1-0), which will head into the bye week before hosting Scotts Valley on Oct. 6 at 7:30pm. 

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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