Apaches start Rivera era with 34-16 win over Cedar Creek
By LEW K. COHN, Inquirer Editor
Gonzales Apache head football coach and athletic director Joey Rivera promised to infuse “pride, passion and purpose” into the athletic program when he was hired last year.
In their 2022 season and home opener, the Rivera Apaches delivered on that promise by defeating the Class 5A Bastrop Cedar Creek Eagles, 34-16, at Apache Stadium on Friday, August 26, to start 1- 0 for the first time since 2017.
The energy of the match was palpable as the stands were full. Meanwhile, on the field, the players and cheerleaders of the Gonzales Youth Football League joined the athletes and cheerleaders of Gonzales Junior High and the sub-college groups of Gonzales High School to break out of the tunnel before the team enters.
“It’s always exciting to get wins, you know, especially in the first game,” Rivera said. “I was excited to see the city come out. The pep rally (earlier on Friday) was awesome. We had some mic issues at the pep rally, but the student section didn’t care. They were energetic, they were excited and there was dancing, as well as the cheerleaders of the group.
“Seeing it all come together was brilliant. That’s the most exciting thing – football is always fun, but when you have a community that supports the team it makes it even more special.
Rivera said to build community spirit, the football team, volleyball team, cheerleaders and the Apache Flames were sent to elementary school for “high-five Friday.” to welcome the youngest to school.
“I said, ‘Guys, these kids are looking up to you. We’re talking about Gonzales Now and this is the time, right now, for you to be a role model for these kids,'” River added. saw tons of smiling faces on the little kids this morning and tons of smiling faces on our guys too. I think we have something special going on right now.
Rivera had promised to put the ball more in the hands of main running back Derrick Garza. The latter delivered then a few, rushing 16 times for 211 yards (13.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns while adding two receptions for 29 yards and another TD.
“As long as he doesn’t bang his head to get out, he’s going to get the ball back and stay in defense too,” Rivera said of Garza. “We said to him, ‘Hey, you tell us when you can’t go and we’ll make adjustments.'”
Offensively, the Apaches gained 403 total offensive yards, including 236 rushing and 167 through the air. Senior quarterback Jarren “Bug” Johnson had a great night throwing the rock, going 9 of 12 for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Gonzales never trailed in the game, hitting on his first possession going for 65 yards in seven plays as Johnson connected with Josh Esparza on a 16-yard TD pass. Emiliano Lopez’s kick hit the right post, giving the Apaches a 6-0 lead after the start of the game.
Cedar Creek tried to do something on their first possession, but a long Eagles win in Gonzales territory fell through when the Apaches forced a fumble, which Brody Borrer recovered at his team’s 33-yard line.
Three plays later, Garza fumbled down the left sideline and rushed 59 yards for an Apache touchdown. Lopez’s kick was good, making it 13-0 with 7:25 left in the first period.
Cedar Creek moved the ball to the Gonzales 37 on their next possession, but turned the ball over on downs on fourth and third.
The Apaches would move the ball behind Johnson’s pass to receiver Mason Navejar, then uncover a bit of ‘razzle-dazzle’ to find the end zone – an optional pass from Navejar to a wide-open Garza for 22 yards and a TD on the first game of the second quarter. Lopez’s kick made it 20-0 with 11:51 left in the half.
“We don’t practice the plays not to perform them, so I don’t necessarily call them rigged plays,” Rivera said. “I call them ‘keep them honest games. We’re still going to have a few games in there where we know your defense and we’re going to try to keep you honest. This game had been open all week in training, but we didn’t finish it much. We finished it when it mattered in-game, though.
The Eagles will capitalize on a Garza fumble later in the quarter, going 30 yards on three plays, capped off by an eight-yard quarterback by Bryan Allen. The PAT was good, making it 20-7 with 9:29 to go in the first half.
Both teams would move the ball into enemy territory in the remaining time of the second period, but a drive from Cedar Creek ended in a turnover on the downs and a drive from Gonzales ended when an attempt Johnson’s misguided pass turned into a fumble recovered by the Eagles. The teams would head to the locker room with the score 20-7 at the break.
Defensive pressure from the Borrer twins (Brody and Hadley) and Jermane Upshaw kept the Eagles from reaching clay in their next two practices. On the Apaches’ second drive in the second half, Johnson took advantage of the speed of the widened Davante Smith, who passed a defender in a post pattern, fired in the throw and motorized the rest of the 53 yards for a TD with 1:12 left in the third. Lopez’s kick was blocked, making it 26-7.
Cedar Creek scored on a 46-yard TD pass with 11:20 left in the game. The kick was good, drawing the Eagles within 12 at 26-14.
It was then that Garza had his last – and best – run of the night. With the ball at the Gonzales 30, Garza took a relay from Johnson and spun intact down the left sideline for a 70-yard TD. He also got the call on a two-run attempt and scored, putting the Apaches up, 34-14, with 11:01 left in the fourth.
Cedar Creek would add a safety when a bad snap on a punt attempt by Gonzales entered the end zone and the punter fell on it to prevent a possible touchdown from Eagle, which would close the score at 34- 16. The Eagles would have two more drives in Apache territory, but came away with nothing as the Gonzales defense stiffened and failed to break.
The Apaches managed to run out of time in their first season-opening win since a 21-20 win over Orange Grove in 2017. Gonzales was a playoff team that season and in the two that followed, but didn’t made the playoffs since 2019. .
Next, the Apaches will face a La Vernia team that lost its opener to Burnet, 36-25, on the road Friday night. Rivera noted that La Vernia will be the first of seven teams (of the nine remaining on the regular season schedule) the Apaches will face that made the playoffs in 2021.
“We can’t be happy with this,” Rivera said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re still 0-0 next week. I’m proud of the effort and hustle this team has shown and we need to continue to build on that every week.