Spring showers bring... March football?

The Lodi High football team started off on the right foot on Friday night, with Kaiden Merryman returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Linden.

Things got rocky from there, but the Flames held on to win 30-14 at the Grape Bowl despite coughing up seven fumbles.

“Seven fumbles, man. It looked like we haven’t played for 504 days,” said Lodi coach George Duenas with a chuckle. “But I’m really happy. Our defense stepped up at times. They had some skill guys that were really good, and that Sherman kid (running back James Sherman Jr.)? He’s a player, man.”

Despite the mistakes, Lodi steadily moved the ball against Linden, with a second touchdown on a long run from Christian Zamora, a safety from the defense, and another rushing touchdown from Merryman.

Duenas pointed to a long, 85-yard drive in the second half, which he called one of the best he’s seen at Lodi, only to end in a fumble on the 1-yard line.

“It was fun to have all those game emotions again,” he said.

The high school football season was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic last fall, but thanks to things opening back up and loosened restrictions on youth sports, the gridiron is back in action, with a short, disjointed season — but still a season — this spring.

Duenas was happy to be back in action, and said the same for his players.

“They were ecstatic,” he said. “If you’re a kid who hasn’t played in 504 days and you’re not happy (to be playing), you’re playing the wrong sport.”

Tokay, meanwhile, ran away with its opener, a road game against West High in Tracy, to the tune of a 56-0 victory. The Tigers led 42-0 at halftime.

“We played well, kudos to our guys, because they’ve been busting their butts since July not even knowing if they were going to be able to cash it in,” said Tokay coach Michael Holst. “They did a lot of the little things we wanted, so we’re super happy.”

Tokay did most of its damage on the ground, with Joseph Filippini rushing for five touchdowns and adding another on defense with an interception return. Jose Bravo added a touchdown, and Ellias Castro got into the end zone with what Holst called a “nice spin move.”

“The guys up front played super well,” Holst said. “We didn’t really throw the ball a ton, there wasn’t really a need. We threw some screens early on, and we ended up with a running clock in the fourth quarter.”

Tokay played three quarterbacks — Ty Didonato, Jacob Varney and Oliver Ballastra — who combined to go 6-for-8 with 49 yards.

While excited about the big victory, Holst was cautious not to get too far ahead of himself, especially with Lincoln coming to town next week.

“Obviously Lincoln is a whole different demon than West,” Holst said. “They can be the best team in the league with the talent that they have. But yeah, we want to celebrate this, and you never know week to week if it’ll be the last game.”

In Galt, Liberty Ranch was looking to bounce back from its opener, a 43-7 loss to Argonaut last week. The Hawks impressed their coach with more energetic play this week, but dropped a 22-21 loss to Union Mine.

Liberty Ranch led 21-16, but the Dianondbacks scored with 1:09 remaining to go up by one point. Liberty Ranch mounted a drive, but ran out of time near midfield.

“It’s hard to grow a sense of being a team in a short amount of time, but the kids showed growth,” said Liberty Ranch coach Anthony Linebaugh. “Especially last week, it’s really tempting to want to point fingers, but the kids did a really good job of taking it in stride, and understanding their roles. That was really cool to see.”

Tony Rangel scored all three of the Hawks’ touchdowns, with two rushing touchdowns and an 84-yard kickoff return.

“There was a lot of tentativeness last week. We didn’t have time to have a scrimmage, and that’s really helpful,” Linebaugh said. “You get a chance to work out kinks, see that hey, maybe this person works better in this position. So we were able to make, not wholesale changes, but some changes to put people in better positions. Special teams was clean, and honestly, the level of intensity was better.”

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