Turnovers and tackling proved problematic for the varsity Reds in their season opener at Linden Friday.
Four first-half turnovers - two of which led to Linden touchdowns - kept the West Siders from establishing offensive momentum early and helped the Lions take a 21-0 lead into the break.
Gustine regrouped at the intermission and came out with a stronger effort in the second half but was unable to erase the three-touchdown deficit as Linden posted a 35-7 victory.
The Reds, given good field position with a Trenton Cremeen interception, got on the board with a 15-yard Jonathan Martin touchdown run in the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-7.
But the Lions put any comeback hopes to rest with two more touchdowns to close out the game.
Turnovers were not the only issue for Gustine. Missed tackles also plagued the Reds, head coach Ronnie LaBry noted, an area that will be addressed going into this week’s game against powerhouse Hilmar.
The game was not without its strong points for the Reds, however.
Gustine’s offensive and defensive lines were generally solid, LaBry said, and the Reds were able to pick up nearly 250 rushing yards - including 109 by senior running back Ismael Amescua on 22 carries.
“We’re young, and a lot of it was just nerves. We settled down in the second half,” LaBry commented. “We’re still a little rough around the edges, but there was nothing that we can’t fix. We’re going to go through our growing pains. We just have to trust in ourselves.”
While Amescua was the workhorse of the Gustine offense, the Reds got contributions from a number of players while rolling up more than 300 yards.
Sophomore Danny Hernandez rolled up 51 yards on just three carries, Martin rushed five times for 46 yards and Jose Rios picked up 32 yards on five carries.
Martin completed six of 14 passes for 72 yards. Adam Anders (two catches, 37 yards) and Cremeen (two catches, 25 yards) led the receiving corps for the Reds.
Cremeen, a junior, led Gustine with seven tackles. Hernandez had a hand in six tackles, while Mateo Gallichio and Patrick Broderick were each involved in five tackles.
Gustine will face a tough test Friday when Hilmar comes calling for the Reds’ home opener.
“It is going to be tough,” LaBry commented. “We are going to have to try to slow the game down to our pace.”
While the Yellowjackets are a formidable team, he added, playing top-quality opponents only benefits the Reds in the long run.
“You have to play good teams to get better,” LaBry commented. “If you play a bunch of soft teams and then the going gets tough, you won’t know how to react.”