Gregori linebacker Peter Garcia had just come through with a dagger of a fumble recovery with 5 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in Friday night’s 20-14 win over Modesto, when he proclaimed to nobody in particular on his team’s sideline: “Best defense in the (Sac-Joaquin) section.”
After the game, Garcia didn’t shy away from his adrenaline-fueled boast.
“I feel like we’re the best defense in the section,” said Garcia. “Look at the numbers.”
A lot of factors that go into determining which team truly owns the section’s best defense, but the numbers lend credence to Garcia’s claim: The Jaguars rank third in the section in tackles, third in sacks and tied for seventh in interceptions. Either way, his underlying point is clear: The Jaguars possess a dominant defensive unit that has put them on the cusp of the team’s first outright Modesto Metro Conference football title in school history.
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With the victory, Gregori wraps up at least a share of the conference crown and can grab the entire thing with a win over Downey in next week’s regular-season finale.
“It’s another test,” said Garcia. “We’re going to prepare everyday for it. We’re going to go hard everyday in practices and we’re going to get the job done.”
The Jags mostly contained fleet-footed quarterback Norvale Howard and running back Zaire Eugene. Gregori’s front seven is big and fast, and the Panthers were unable to gash the unit for big chunks of yardage, as they did last week in their upset win over Downey.
And, unlike last week when Modesto was able to pressure Knights quarterback Bryce Peterson, Jaguars signal caller Bobby Avina had enough time to complete 18 of 33 pass attempts for 247 yards and a pair of touchdown passes – a 9-yard toss to Colton MacCaughtry in the first quarter and a 9-yard strike to Gabe Sanchez with seconds remaining in half.
“Coming into this season, we knew we had to come out here and make a statement,” said Avina, who has thrown for 2,309 yards and completed 70.3 percent of his passes, with 24 touchdowns against just four interceptions. “Our goal this year was just to make history.”
Gregori’s first score came when Trey Longstreth returned the game’s opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.
Trailing 13-0 after one quarter, the Panthers scored on the first play of the second quarter when Zaire Eugene busted in from the 3, bringing Modesto within one touchdown. From there, it was a defensive struggle, with each team scoring but one touchdown over nearly three full quarters.
Modesto’s final touchdown came when Howard ran in from the 10, displaying his tremendous athleticism by going airborne to pick up the final 3 yards. That left 1.9 seconds on the clock … time enough for the Panthers to try a desperation pooch kick, which the Jaguars recovered to end the game.
“It’s awesome,” said Jags head coach Jason McCoy, in his sixth season at Gregori. “I’m a firm believer in people that work hard and put in the time and energy, good things happen to them. Sometimes it’s championships and sometimes it’s later on down in life, but these guys worked their tales off.”