HHS team ready to take on TVL ‘gauntlet’

Hughson football team ready to take on TVL ‘gauntlet’
Posted on 10/07/2019
Hughson High School Football players

This week is different. Shaun King knows it. And so do his Hughson High football players. So there’s no use even pretending that Friday’s home game against Hilmar will be anything like the past two weeks, which featured lopsided and completely expected victories.

Hilmar -- which won a state championship last year, has lost just once this season and has owned the Huskies the past few years -- is a completely different opponent.

“We’ve been working on Hilmar the past two weeks,” admitted King, whose club is coming off back-to-back thumpings of Modesto Christian (54-0) and Riverbank (46-23). “We rested quite a few banged up guys last week.”

How different is the preparation for Hilmar? King gathered his players Saturday for the first time ever. They stretched. They lifted some light weights. And they continued to walk through the game plan they’ve been studying for two weeks. Then King and his coaching staff then met for five hours Sunday, skipping most of the NFL games on TV. King joked that he doesn’t expect to get much sleep this week.

“I’m going with the thought if you outwork someone, you’ll end up on the winning side on the other end,” he explained.

Last Tuesday in practice, King used Hughson’s unbeaten junior varsity team to simulate some of what he expects this week from Hilmar. He plans to do it again this week. Anything to gain an edge.

“Hilmar has a lot of speed on offense at the skill positions and so does our JV team,” King said. “They like to get outside. We have to contain them defensively.”

One part of the Husky defense King is especially proud of is the secondary, which is manned by four juniors -- Alonzo Farias, Nolan Rawe, Julio Rodriguez and Ezekial Davis. He also mentioned the growth of senior Clayton Dowdy at middle linebacker.

“They’ve done well,” the coach said of the four defensive backs. “The problems we were having earlier in the year have been fixed. And Clayton is getting better every week.”

The problems King referred to happened in stunning home losses to Orestimba and Livingston when defenders lost track of their receivers and gave up big plays after the opposing quarterback was flushed out of the pocket.

“We’re only five bad plays from being undefeated,” King said. “Nine points.”

Offensively, Hughson continues to rely on junior quarterback Aiden Meyer, who tossed four touchdowns against Riverbank, and senior running back Zander De la Cruz, who ran for 112 yards and two scores on only five carries.

“Those guys have been playing well all year,” said King.

For the season, Meyer is 83 for 146 for 1,255 yards and 15 TDs with just five interceptions. He’s also scored five TDs on the ground. De la Cruz has gained 564 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in seven games.

“Offensively, we have to play the perfect game this week,” King stressed. “We have to win the turnover battle and win special teams. We have to play our best game of the season.”

Hughson (4-3 overall, 2-1 in the Trans-Valley League) doesn’t really have much margin for error the rest of the way. After Hilmar (5-1, 1-1), the Huskies have a bye week, then face Ripon (6-1, 2-1) at home before closing on the road against Escalon (6-0, 2-0).

“We call it the gauntlet,” King said. “The toughest teams in the league are the next three opponents.”

Re-establishing home-field advantage is one of the priorities for Hughson this week. King knows most of that will have to happen on the field, but he credits new Principal Loren Lighthall with helping to light a fire in the stands and on the home sideline.

“Mr. Lighthall has brought a lot of energy back to the stands at Husky Stadium,” King said. “He’s like a cheerleader out there. He runs with the cheerleaders and he gets the student section going. He’s down on the sideline. He’s even whispered in my ear, ‘That was a bad flag,’ on a penalty. It’s awesome.”

JV team: Hughson raised its record to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the TVL with last week’s 48-0 shutout of Ripon. For the season, the Huskies have outscored their opponents 149-7.
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