Coach Joe McCray lights up when he talks about his Sacramento football team and its defense. There’s flashes of speed, there’s hard hits and there’s even some scoring.
“The attitude, the tenacity. They’re extremely tenacious,” McCray said. “They get after it. They play with a chip on their shoulders. I got of young guys that have something to prove and the older guys have a chip on their shoulders.”
The tenacity was evident even as Chico (1-0) took a 26-18 win over Sacramento on Friday at Hughes Stadium. It was the Dragons’ defense that sparked an early lead and it was the defense that gave them a shot at the end of the game.
When they strike, the Dragons (1-1) move fast.
In the second quarter, Chico quarterback Jake Hamman completed a short pass at his own 10-yard line to Willy Baker, who took a step and was popped by Sacramento’s Michael Rayford. The ball came out and landed softly in the hands of senior captain Deeunj Stevenson, who plowed through a pack of Chico players to give Sacramento a 6-3 lead.
Stevenson has had some experience running and catching passes on the other side of the ball for the Dragons, but there’s no question where he’d rather be playing.
“Defense,” Stevenson said, matter-of-factly. “I started off on defense. I never played offense really, this is my first year going both ways.”
The defense has its weak points, though, as Chico found. The Panthers line was able to push the Dragons around, clearing the way for junior running back Jalen Johnson, who ran mostly between the tackles 226 yards – including a 30-yard run where he had the ball stripped out at the end, resulting in a change of possession.
It isn’t all defensive flash for the Dragons. Junior quarterback Jaylen Betschart completed a beautiful 53-yard strike to a streaking Deyvon Drayton to keep the Dragons within a score of Chico in the fourth quarter.
The Sacramento defense again stood its ground when it mattered. Chico got to the 1-yard line on a drive late in the fourth quarter but the Dragons flew into the Panthers backfield on three straight plays to stuff runs and force a field goal to end a 14-play drive.
On the ensuing drive, with the score 26-18 and 1:37 left, Betschart fumbled on the first play and Chico was able to kneel out the win.
It shouldn’t have come to that, McCray said. The defense gave his team plenty of time to put away Chico in the first half. It’s a problem that will be corrected next week before the Dragons face Inderkum.
“I’m not going 1-2,” McCray told his team after the game. Stevenson, the team captain, nodded. The defense doesn’t want to let that happen.