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When a coaching change is made, a transition period necessarily follows. The rest of that equation is that the length varies from team to team.
Nine games into the 2013 season, everything seems to have fallen into place for East Central (4-5, 2-2). The Hornets demonstrated as much in a 50-0 rout of the host Bobcats last Friday at South San Stadium.
“It’s been a process,” East Central coach Clint Hartman said. “I know I wouldn’t want to coach any other team. When we play like that, we have a chance to beat any other team in the city.”
That transition was difficult by a continuing plethora of injuries, which didn’t spare the Hornets’ two top offensive players against South San (2-7, 0-4). Both Jeremy Jones, who produced 232 yards of total offense, and running back Johnathan Jackson, who ran for 145, are healthy now after missing a handful of games.
“As a team, we believed in our coaches and our game plan,” Jones said. “We really wanted this. We just wanted to come in here, play hard and play clean – play to win.”
Jones said a pep talk from senior Caid Franckowiak, who incurred a season-ending injury a week earlier against Steele, fueled the team. That was reflected in the Hornets’ 23-point, first-quarter explosion that buried South San.
“We dedicated this game to Caid Franckowiak,” Jones said.
Until the Steele game, the Hornets hadn’t lost a player for the season. Franckowiak is a member of a legacy East Central football family and was a team leader as well as a two-year starter in the secondary.
Franckowiak, who was recovering from surgery earlier in the week, called Hartman earlier in the day and asked if there was anything he could do to help the team. That led to the pre-game phone call.
“We lost a great player and and a great kid in Caid Franckowiak,” Hartman said. “The guys trusted Caid more than anybody on the team. I think they bought in to what he told them.”
East Central was missing three injured offensive starters against South San. Receivers Douglas Polasek and Wanya Ward were out, along with back Javion Polk. In combination, that’s a lot of firepower to be sidelined, but their absence didn’t slow the Hornets.
On their second play from scrimmage, Jones found senior Treyvon Hinson (54 yards, 2 catches) for a 46-yard touchdown. Following a fumble recovery, Jackson’s two-yard run put the Hornets in the end zone again with 6:09 left in the quarter.
The New Mexico State commit saw an increased role in East Central’s offense Friday. The Hornets effectively employed him coming out of the backfield to catch dump passes from Jones (8 of 12, 116 yards). The senior went for 48 yards on three receptions.
“We wanted to give the ball to Jackson and make him earn it,” Hartman said. “We’ve been working on it for a while. He rose to the challenge tonight.”
The ensuing kickoff pinned South San at its own 3-yard line. On third down, Austin Allen fired through the Bobcats line and tackled Justin Acosta for a safety. The Hornets led 16-0.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Booker said. “That offense was the best I’ve seen all year. Just give me that line – whoever’s behind that line. And their defense was filling all the gaps.”
A 45-yard drive off the free kick resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Kyle Lamey. The short pass was set up by an earlier screen that Jackson took 31 yards.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot (catching the ball out of the backfield),” Jackson said. “My game is better, and I rely on our offensive line. (South San) left me open a lot.”
South San couldn’t manage the deficit with an offense whose top player, senior back Christian Morales (661 rushing yards), had sustained a season-ending concussion. Justin Acosta and Gonzalez divided the ballcarrying duties against the Hornets. They combined for 31 rushing yards.
Quarterback Darren Tinajero also was out with a knee injury, but South San coach Marcus Booker said he should return for the season finale Friday at Corpus Christi Carroll (3-6, 2-2).
Isiah Gutierrez got his first start against East Central and showed enough to earn another opportunity.
“I’ll still stay with the new kid,” Booker said. “We still want to see what our young kids can do. He does well but, basically, we had too many turnovers. Like I try to tell Isiah and Darrin, “You don’t have to win the game, you just have to manage the game.’ ”
Jones ran five times for 44 yards and completed two passes for 18 on an 80-yard drive that opened the second quarter. The Rice University commit scored on a 14-yard keeper that made it 30-0.
“Johnathan and I were trying to run right at them,” Jones said. “It opened up the passing game.”
Jackson increased the Hornets’ lead to 37-0 with a nine-yard run up the middle on a sprint draw. The Hornets drove 59 yards off tehe second-half kickoff.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Jackson said. “I’m proud of how we worked through our injuries.”
That was the last possession for the East Central starters. Jones gave way to Justin Upshaw-Mendoza, who had started two games at quarterback when Jones was hurt. Upshaw-Mendoza served as a receiver until that point Friday.
“It was difficult being out,” Jones said, “but our backup quarterback came in for me and did a great job.”
Jackson’s understudy was junior Dalton Zigmond, who gained 62 yards on 12 attempts. Zigmond scored on a six-yard run with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
“I figured out midway through the first quarter that we weren’t going to be able to stop them,” Booker said. “Then we fell into doing things we didn’t need to do. We were trying to throw the ball to come back. That’s just not us, with a young quarterback.”
The Bobcats crossed into East Central territory twice. The first was on a 27-yard run from Gutierrez near the end of the first quarter. The second nearly reached the red zone late in the second quarter, but Hornets cornerback Russell Brown produced an interception.
A 16-yard fumble return by East Central defensive back Lavon Price completed the scoring with 31 seconds remaining.
South San finished with three turnovers, while East Central made none. Booker said curbing turnovers was a top priority for the Carroll game.
“One thing I definitely want is a strong finish for our seniors.” he said. “They’ve done a great job, and we want to send them out properly. And I’d like to have one game with no turnovers.”
East Central limited South San to 75 total yards. The Hornets recorded its first shutout of the season.
“The defense set the tone,” Hartman said. “They shut down South San. We really played well on defense. We need to keep playing good defense.”
The Hornets can lock down a playoff bid with a home win Friday (7:30 p.m.) over Corpus Christi King (3-6, 1-3). Hartman indicated that the three injured offensive starters probably would return for the game.
“There haven’t been many things that haven’t been affected by the injuries,” Hartman said. “We’ve had three quarterbacks play in a new system. You never know when that defining moment might be, but I think we’ve turned the corner.”