WEST VALLEY - With 67-0, 63-6 and 49-2 losses to open the season, the Sunnyside High School freshman football team may have not been very optimistic on its bus ride to powerhouse West Valley this past Monday.
Undaunted, though, by their less than splashy start to the season, the Grizzlies gave the West Valley freshmen all they could handle. By the time the final whistle blew, Sunnyside's underclassmen knew they had hung tough with the Rams, even if the scoreboard did show West Valley winning by a 38-18 score.
"We've made huge strides," said Glenn Braman, coach of the Grizzly frosh squad.
"We've gone from not being able to move the ball at all in our first three games, to scoring three touchdowns against a pretty big West Valley freshman team," he said.
One of the reasons the Grizzlies finally got some giddy-up in their offense was the play of the offensive line.
"Our O-line gave (quarterback) Michael Rodriguez a ton of time to throw the football," Braman said.
Braman said his workhorses down in the trenches included Moises Hernandez, Mario Saldana, J.J. Lara, Frank Rivera and Richard Palomarez.
"Our linemen were going up against much bigger West Valley players, but the job they did...it was impressive," said Braman.
A tip of the hat also has to be given to Rodriguez, who was making his first start of the season at QB. Although official stats weren't available, Rodriguez threw for close to 200 yards.
"One of the bonuses to Michael's play is that he throws very well on the run," said Braman.
It was Rodriguez who jump-started the Sunnyside scoring. After West Valley took the early lead, Rodriguez hooked up with Justin Smotherman, coming out of the backfield, on an 80-yard pass that took the ball to inside West Valley's 5-yard line. Smotherman was rewarded for his nifty catch-and-run by being given the ball on the next play, which he turned into a 3-yard "lead play" touchdown.
Later in the second quarter, Rodriguez capped off Sunnyside's second scoring drive. He hit David Clara on a 7-yard slant for a TD.
"David (Clara) runs very nice routes and he has some good hands," said Braman.
The Grizzlies added yet another touchdown in the third quarter. Rodriguez hit Smotherman with a pass five yards downfield, and the Sunnyside running back whisked pass all the West Valley defenders another 20 yards to paydirt.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sunnyside for the most part made the Rams grind it out.
"There were only a couple of plays we gave up for big gains," said Braman.
"Our defensive players did a good job of coming forward and filling. They stayed aggressive," the Sunnyside coach added.
"We're getting better as a team," he continued. "A lot of our players had no organized football experience coming into this season, or very little experience. They're learning how to be aggressive, how to tackle, how to do their assignments when they're out on the field.
"And, they're a great bunch of kids," said Braman. "They want to learn, they want to win. They're all very supportive of each other."