Cougars, Warriors get first taste of competition in scrimmage

SANTA ROSA — There were a lot of positives and areas to fix highlighted when the Santa Rosa Warriors and Santa Maria Cougars kicked off their seasons with a scrimmage Friday.

The teams swapped turns running plays in different situations during the first portion of the scrimmage, then played one live quarter. Though neither team found the end zone in the live portion, Santa Maria ultimately shined brightest.

The Cougars opened the scrimmage by taking the ball to the end zone in their first 12-play possession. The offense broke off some big plays and had success in both the passing and running games, but struggled to finish drives despite moving the ball with some consistency.

“I think we’re on the right track. Overall, it was a good, clean scrimmage for us and Santa Rosa,” Santa Maria coach Israel Gracia said. “It was very promising. I feel if we control the ball, our best defense can be our offense if we keep people off. But the catch is, we have to capitalize and go score. Even though we kept the ball for that long we didn’t put it in the end zone, and that’s something we have to work on.”

Quarterback Chris Ibarra, running backs Esiah Gracia and Mark Rodriguez, and the offensive line were among the offensive standouts for the Cougars. Gracia was the workhorse back and was the only Santa Maria player to find the end zone, first with a catch and then with a run during the situational drives.

Defensively, Jordan Ramirez, Pablo Ibarra and Nate DelaRosa, who played both ways, impressed Gracia. Randy Rivera snagged two interceptions during the live quarter.

“Coming into this, I wasn’t really sure how far we were going to be. I’m really pleased with where we are,” Gracia said. “I wanted to get the basics down, make sure we’re able to come off the ball and sustain drives, and we were able to do that. But we got a lot of stuff to work on.”

Santa Rosa has only been under the direction of coach Joe Marichalar for two weeks, and Gracia said he was impressed with how sharp the team looks already. The Warriors’ defense did well to contain the Cougars’ offense after allowing a big play to keep them from scoring.

The defensive unit was a highlight of the night for Marichalar. David Bazaldua, Fabian Cavazos and Andrew Ballin made some strong plays for Santa Rosa.

“They competed. Defensively they got after it, which I’m very proud of. They seem like they’re a little ahead of schedule, which is good.” Marichalar said.

The Warriors found success in the run game with Felipe Alaniz, CJ Olivarez and Diego Cruz. JJ Anaya made some grabs and picked up extra yards during the first half of the scrimmage. Both of Santa Rosa’s possessions in the live quarter resulted in turnovers.

“Offensively, we still have things to work on and tweak, but that comes with the territory,” Marichalar said. “Offense is about timing, and we’ll get there. We saw some good running but we need to continue to get tougher with our line.”

Marichalar felt the scrimmage was a good first step to becoming a team and pinning down what roles which players will fill. He said the main message for the Warriors will be that the faster they come together as a team, the more success they’ll have on the field, particularly in moments of adversity.

“I’m proud of the boys. We still have work to do as coaches and players,” Marichalar said. “Attitude and toughness, those were the two main things I wanted to see. We saw that for the most part. At times, in critical situations, we needed to toughen up a little more. We’ll get better as the games go on and the days go by and we encounter those situations.”