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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Evan HolmesAmid a fireworks display, the Pintos charge out for their home opener in front of a raucous crowd.

California High School’s football team returned to action Friday for their 2021-22 home opener against the Fulton High School Hornets.

Heading into the game, the Pintos were 1-0 on the season and 2-0 all-time against Fulton, having won both of their previous meetings 49-0. With a strong offensive showing from multiple players and a defensive front that found its footing as the night went on, the Pintos continued their dominance over Fulton with a 47-21 victory to improve to 2-0 on the season.

The night didn’t start off as planned for California; the Pintos gave up the ball on downs on their first possession. Meanwhile, on Fulton’s first possession, the Hornets kicked their running game into high gear and scored the first touchdown of the game to take a quick 7-0 lead, courtesy of a one-yard rushing touchdown from junior running back Tyreion Logan.

But the Pintos were quick to respond when quarterback Calen Kruger connected with wide receiver Trevor Myers for a 49-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 just before the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Pintos took off like a fresh horse and never looked back. California scored three receiving touchdowns in the second quarter off Kruger’s hot play. Kruger connected for an eight-yard touchdown pass to Kaden Bax, a 54-yard touchdown catch and run to Tyler Patterson, and a 98-yard touchdown catch and run to Ayden Bryant. The Pintos rode the momentum into a 28-13 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Pintos would make a pattern of putting the ball in the hands of their running backs. Senior running back Enoch Dunnaway took over the second half, scoring two rushing touchdowns in the third quarter and recording 117 yards on 24 carries on the night. After an insurance touchdown in the closing minutes from Kruger, the Pintos walked away with a 47-21 win.

California finished the night with 617 total yards of offense. Kruger threw 13 for 26 for 312 yards and four touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Patterson contributed in a big way with 140 rushing yards on 13 carries and three receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown.

The Pintos did have a series of miscues that led to the team drawing 11 flags for 117 yards.

“We let them stay in the game longer that we would’ve liked. We felt like going into this week that we had the better team,” Pintos head coach Seth Womack said. “You’ve got to take your hat off to them for their effort. But our kids came alive tonight and we moved the ball very well on offense.”

California had difficulties in the first half with stopping Fulton’s running game, but were able to get their defense against the run on track. According to Womack, the Pintos hurt themselves by playing a little too aggressive on defense at the start.

“I think our defense was just a little over-aggressive. I think we were coming up-field too much and not staying in our lanes and we weren’t plugging our gaps like we should,” Womack explained. “We kind of settled down a little bit and made some slight adjustments as we needed to and we started to shut the run game down.”

One of the key elements to the Pintos’ offensive assault is their run game, which was on full display Friday night. Womack said the running game is one of the greatest strengths for this year’s Pintos side.

“We have really good team speed. It’s something that’s really hard for other schools to match. They can’t practice against it,” Womack said. “Their best guys are on defense and their scouts don’t have the speed to challenge us. We’ve got really good speed.”

The Pintos will now take their undefeated record to the squad that has been the team to beat in conference play for years — the Blair Oaks High School Falcons. The Pintos have not defeated the Falcons since Nov. 7, 2014, in the Class 3 State Tournament. Womack said he believes one of the most important keys to beating a powerhouse team like Blair Oaks is to put in a great week of practices.

“It’s imperative; we’ve got to be crisp, we’ve got to do things right, we’ve got to get better every day. We’re going to have to put a lot in and do a lot of stuff. We’ve got to put out all the stops against Blair Oaks,” Womack said. “They are the team to beat and they don’t have six good guys, they have 40 good guys. So we’ve got our work cut out for us, but if we play good football and keep things clean, we’ve got a shot.”

The Pintos could certainly be the underdogs this Friday night when they travel to Wardsville to go head-to-head against their old foes, but Womack said he believes his team can pull off the upset if the Pintos play their style of football.

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