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Michael Elbert Makes Big Defensive Play to Ignite Dos Pueblos to 35-7 Rout of Ventura

Chargers dominate line of scrimmage and create four turnovers in Channel League opener

Michael Elbert of Dos Pueblos races 88 yards for a touchdown after picking up a Ventura fumble. The score gave the Chargers a 14-7 lead. Click to view larger
Michael Elbert of Dos Pueblos races 88 yards for a touchdown after picking up a Ventura fumble. The score gave the Chargers a 14-7 lead. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Leave it to the defense to make the critical play for the Dos Pueblos football team in Friday night's Channel League opener against Ventura.

After the Cougars’ Evan Cox intercepted a Jake Ramirez pass and returned it to the 1-yard line, the Chargers’ defense came up with the play that changed the game. 

In a wild turn of events, Ventura quarterback Kyle Gerardi juggled the snap on second down, the ball fell to the ground and DP safety Michael Elbert scooped it up and ran 88 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a 14-7 lead. 

DP never lost the lead, adding three more touchdowns in the second half to soundly beat the Cougars 35-7.

It was a thorough performance by the Chargers (6-1, 1-0). They dominated the line of scrimmage, collected five more turnovers to raise their season total to 32, and ran a balanced offensive attack to frustrate Ventura (3-4, 0-1).

The game started like it was going to be a shootout between two teams that shared the league title last year. Ventura’s fleet-footed Chuck Wick returned the opening kickoff 67 yards to the DP 23 and scored three plays later on a 12-yard run for 7-0 lead.

Ramirez marched DP down the field until the drive stalled at the 15. The Chargers missed a 32-yard field goal, but they got the ball back when Gerardi fumbled and Justin Padilla recovered at the Ventura 22.

DP running back Rob Alfaro carries Ventura defenders on his back. Click to view larger
DP running back Rob Alfaro carries Ventura defenders on his back. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Rob Alfaro blasted through the line for 18 yards on first down, but Ventura’s defense stepped up on the next three downs. On fourth and goal from the 7, Ramirez hit Elbert on a slant pattern for the touchdown. Jesse Mollkoy kicked the first of his 5 PATs to knot the score at 7-7.

"Two plays before I was telling my coach, ‘The slant is open, the slant is open!’" said Elbert. "They finally gave it to me and I made it count. I just jabbed (the defensive back) to the outside and cut in and the ball was right there."

Ventura went three and out on its next series, but the Cougars got a huge boost when Gerardi punted the ball 75 yards with wind, putting DP back to its 3.

The Chargers moved the ball to the 27 before Cox intercepted and appeared headed for a touchdown. But Ramirez showed that the offensive players can make defensive plays, too. He prevented the touchdown by tackling Cox at the 1.

Elbert then made his amazing play.

"We practice it all week," he said of the scoop and dash play. "He just put it on the ground, I picked it up, I had five guys behind me on my team and I was gone."

Defensive lineman Erick Nisich was on the ground, trying to get to Gerardi when Elbert made the game-changing play.

"I bear crawled to plug up the hole and my head is kind of down in the dirt because I'm plugging up the hole at the bottom," he explained. "Then I see some flashing lights and I hear screaming. My first thought is they scored on us —‘Oh, great, now we have to come back and score another one.’ But I look up and there's Michael tearing down the field, and I'm going, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘Go, go, go!’"

Cyrus Wallace stretches for the pylon on DP’s fourth touchdown, an 18-yard pass from quarterback Jake Ramirez. Click to view larger
Cyrus Wallace stretches for the pylon on DP’s fourth touchdown, an 18-yard pass from quarterback Jake Ramirez. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Said DP coach Nate Mendoza: "The play of the game. (Ventura) is on their way to going up 14-7. Thank God, Jake hustled and made that tackle on the 1-yard line because we were able to pick up that fumble. It was definitely the play of the game. It turned the game around momentum-wise."

The stunned Cougars, who switched to Cannon Reid at quarterback, fumbled on their next possession and Nathan Beveridge recovered  at the Ventura 45. 

The Cougars’ defense rescued the team, however, and the score remained 14-7 at the end of the half.

That changed on the first possession of the third quarter. DP’s Conner Lee returned the second-half kickoff to the 48 to ignite a touchdown drive. The big play was a 31-yard run on a counter play by running back Erick Lopez. Two plays later, Ramirez ran two yards for the score and a 21-7 lead at 9:34 of the third quarter.

Ramirez played a solid game, rushing for 70 yards and passing for 101.

The Chargers’ special teams then made a big play. On the kickoff after Ramirez' TD, they pooch kicked the ball and Diego Cruz hustled to recover it at the Ventura 42. Ramirez and Elbert combined for a touchdown but it was nullified by a holding penalty, and the Chargers eventually punted the ball back to Ventura.

Gerardi returned to the game but he was under constant pressure from the DP defense. The defense tackled Wick for a negative 5-yard pass play and Padilla sacked Gerardi on a third and 15, forcing the Cougars to punt.

The Dos Pueblos offense, meanwhile, continued to pound the Cougars with runs by Ramirez, Alfaro and Will Yamasaki. The Chargers capped an 81-yard, 13-play drive with an 18-yard Ramirez pass to Cyrus Wallace for a 28-7 lead with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter.

"We all knew this was the most important game of the year, by far. And, we had to take care of businees on the line," Nisich said. "We talked all week that the line was going to be the deciding factor in the game, so we had to go out there and dominate. Our left guard, he played with an injured ankle pretty much the whole game and he stepped up big time when we needed him to. He made some good plays, executed his blocks and helped us open up some holes for our backs to get some yards and score."

DP’s defense denied Ventura again as Elbert intercepted a long pass by Gerardi at the 7, his fourth interception of the year.

The Chargers put the finishing touches on their sixth straight win with runs by Alfaro and Yamasaki on a 56-yard drive. Yamasaki scored the touchdown on a 3-yard blast up the middle.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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