Gonzales Apache head football coach and athletic director Joey Rivera promised to instill “pride, passion and purpose” in the athletic program when he was hired last year.
In their 2022 season and home opener, Rivera’s Apaches backed up that promise, defeating the Class 5A Bastrop Cedar Creek Eagles, 34-16, at Apache Stadium on Friday, Aug. 26, to begin 1-0 for the first time since 2017.
The energy at the game was palpable as the stands were full. Meanwhile on the field, players and cheerleaders from the Gonzales Youth Football League joined athletes and cheerleaders from Gonzales Junior High and the subvarsity groups from Gonzales High School in running out the tunnel prior to the team making their entrance.
“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 Friday) was awesome. We had some mic problems at the pep rally, but the student section didn't care. They were energetic, they were excited and there was dancing going on, as well as the cheerleaders the band.
“To see everything come together was awesome. That's the most exciting thing — football is always fun, but when you got a community that backs the team, it makes it even more special.”
Rivera said to build up community spirit, the football team, volleyball team, cheerleaders and Apache Flames were sent to the elementary school for “high-five Friday” to welcome the younger kids to school.
“I said, ‘Guys, these kids look up to you. We talk about Gonzales Now and this is the time, right now, for you to go be a role model for these kids,’” River added. “I saw tons of smiling faces on little kids this morning and tons of smiling faces on our guys as well. I think we've got something special going on right now.”
Rivera had promised to get the ball more into the hands of senior running back Derrick Garza. The latter delivered and then some, rushing 18 times for 208 yards (nearly 11.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns while adding two receptions for 30 yards and another TD.
“Just as long as he's not tapping his head to come out, he's gonna be getting the ball and staying on defense, too,” Rivera said of Garza. “We’ve told him ‘Hey, you tell us when you can't go and we'll make adjustments.’”
Offensively, the Apaches gained 423 yards of total offense, including 250 on the ground and 173 through the air. Senior quarterback Jarren “Bug” Johnson had a good night slinging the rock, going 9-of-12 for 151 yards and two TDs.
Gonzales never trailed in the game, striking on their first possession by going 65 yards in seven plays as Johnson connected with Josh Esparza on a 16-yard TD pass. The kick by Emiliano Lopez hit the right upright, giving the Apaches a 6-0 lead minutes into the game.
Cedar Creek tried to get something going on their first possession, but a long gain by the Eagles into Gonzales territory ended up for naught when the Apaches forced a fumble, which Brody Borrer recovered at his team’s 33 yard line.
Three plays later, Garza got loose on the left sideline and raced 59 yards for an Apache touchdown. Lopez’ 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 three.
The Apaches would move the ball behind the passing of Johnson to receiver Mason Navejar and then would unveil a little “razzle-dazzle” to find the end zone — an option pass from Davonte Smith to a wide open Garza for 22 yards and a TD on the first play of the second quarter. Lopez’ kick made it 20-0 with 11:51 left in the half.
“We don't practice plays not to run them, so I don't call them necessarily trick plays,” Rivera said. “I call them ‘keep them honest plays. We're gonna always have a few plays in there where we know your defense and we're gonna try to keep you honest. That play had been open all week in practice, but we didn’t complete it that much. We completed it when it counted in the game, though.”
The Eagles would capitalize on a Garza fumble later in the quarter, going 30 yards in three plays, capped off with a six-yard quarterback keeper by Bryan Allen. The PAT was good, making it 20-7 with 9:29 left in the first half.
Both teams would move the ball into enemy territory in the remaining time of the second period, but a Cedar Creek drive ended on a turnover on downs and a Gonzales drive ended when an ill-advised pass attempt by Johnson morphed 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 by the Borrer twins (Brody and Hadley) and by Jermane Upshaw prevented the Eagles from reaching pay dirt on their next two drives. On the Apaches’ second drive of the second half, Johnson took advantage of the speed of wideout Smith, who got past a defender in a post pattern, hauled in the throw and motored the rest of the 54 yards for a TD with 1:12 left in the third. Lopez’ kick was blocked, making it 26-7. Smith caught three passes for 71 yards and the TD.
Cedar Creek scored on a 48-yard TD pass of its own with 11:20 left to play in the game. The kick was good, drawing the Eagles to within 12 at 26-14.
That’s when Garza made his final — and best — run of the night. With the ball at the Gonzales 30, Garza took a handoff from Johnson and scooted untouched up the left sideline for a 70-yard TD. He also got the call on a two-point attempt and scored, putting the Apaches up, 34-14, with 11:01 to play in the fourth.
Cedar Creek would add a safety when a bad snap on a punt attempt by Gonzales went into the end zone and the punter fell on it to prevent a possible Eagle touchdown, which would close out the scoring at 34-16. The Eagles would have two more drives into Apache territory, but come away with nothing as the Gonzales defense stiffened and would not break.
The Apaches were able to run out the clock on their first season-opening victory since a 21-20 win over Orange Grove in 2017. Gonzales was a playoff team that season and in the two that followed, but has not made the postseason since 2019.
On defense, Upshaw had three tackles for a loss and a sack as well as eight tackles total (four assisted), while Brody Borrer had a sack and one tackle for loss as well as seven tackles total (six assisted). Kamren Leal had four tackles, one sack and a tackle for loss, while Corben Wolff had two tackles, both for loss, and a sack. The defense held Cedar Creek to minus-21 yards rushing. The Eagles also went 0-for-5 on fourth down attempts and only gained a total of 217 yards.
Next up, the Apaches will face a La Vernia team which lost its opener to Burnet, 36-25, on the road Friday night. Rivera noted La Vernia will be the first of seven teams (of the remaining nine on the regular season schedule) the Apaches will face who made the playoffs in 2021.
“We cannot be satisfied with this,” Rivera said. “As far as I am concerned, we’re 0-0 again next week. I am proud of the effort and hustle this team showed and we’ve got to continue to build on that every week.”