A hard-hitting Gustine defense set the tone for the Reds’ football season opener Friday against visiting Sonora, but the Wildcats eventually prevailed 33-6.

Pads were popping in the spirited season opener as the Reds showed their willingness to go toe-to-toe with their guests from the Mother Lode League.

“That school is like two divisions higher than we are, but our kids didn’t back down,” commented coach Ronnie LaBry. “Overall, I thought we came out and were physical. We had some missed opportunities, but like I told the kids we’re not going to play another team of that caliber the rest of the year. We made them work for everything they got.”

The Reds had moved the ball with some success in the first half but were not able to capitalize on a second-quarter drive into the red zone while trailing 13-0.

And, when the Wildcats scored in the final 10 seconds of the half to take a 19-0 lead all the momentum appeared to be swinging to the visitors.

But Gustine struck in lightning fashion, scoring on an untimed down after the clock had expired to suddenly be back in contention at 19-7.

The Reds started their two-play scoring drive with a 26-yard completion from Jonathan Martin to Trenton Cremeen as time expired. But a Sonora penalty on the play gave Gustine an additional 15 yards and one additional play. The Reds made the most of it when Cremeen hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Martin.

Danny Hernandez split the uprights on the conversion to make it 19-7.

Gustine had the chance to make it a one-score game on its opening drive of the second half. The Reds marched with authority to inside the Sonora 1 but came away empty on a fourth-down interception as the Wildcats came up with a game-changing defensive play.

Sonora subsequently put up touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to pull away.

Offensively, Martin led Gustine with 50 yards on 12 carries. Hernandez picked up 45 yards on four carries, Cristopher Meneses ground out 32 yards on eight carries and freshman Zander Leyva picked up a dozen yards on four tries.

Cremeen led Gustine’s receiving corps with 57 yards on six catches. Hernandez had two receptions for 32 yards.

Mateo Gallichio and Hernandez each were involved in 11 tackles, and sophomore Gio Torres had a hand in 10 tackles.

LaBry also singled out middle linebacker Christian Garcia for repeatedly disrupting the Sonora offense.

LaBry said the opener for the Reds, who are not fielding a junior varsity team, was also an opportunity for several younger players to gain varsity experience.

Regardless of the outcome, LaBry reflected, simply being back on the field was a major step for the Reds. Whether a football season would be played at all this school year was for a time in doubt, he noted.

“Being out there and being able to hit somebody other than their teammates.....it started to feel somewhat like normal,” he commented. “That is what these kids need.”

Gustine plays at Delhi Friday as the five-game season continues.