Every road has an end. The 2018 Petaluma High varsity football team traveled a long, winding journey with many bumps in the road and an abrupt end. The Trojans’ first year in the new Vine Valley Athletic League ended at 3-3 with a 6-5 record overall.
A talented team underplayed their record, but it was a few regrettable losses that changed the prospects of the Trojans’ season and ended the year in Alameda with a 49-0 loss to Encinal in the first round of the NCS playoffs.
Lead by running back Garrett Freitas, senior, Petaluma’s offense was electric for much of the season. Freitas capped a historic career by rushing for over 1,000 yards and also leading the team in receiving yards. He credits team chemistry for his success, saying, “We spend three hours together every single day fighting to get better. It is just the most important thing to make the team click. [Team chemistry] is the best part of football.”
After losing some valuable seniors from the 2017 squad, including their leading passer, wide receiver and tackler, there were many holes to fill. However, this team quickly showed resolve gritting out a pair of 21-7 victories in pre-league over Montgomery and Terra Linda.
Daniel DeCarli and Nick Siembieda, seniors, anchored an offensive line that helped Petaluma wear down opposing defenses with their triple option grind-it-out attack. Colton Prieto, senior, provided a big boost to Petaluma, ascending into the legendary legion of physical Trojan running backs. Starting in Petaluma’s victory over Terra Linda, Prieto averaged 25 carries a game and left opposing defenses with their hands on their hips. Furthermore, it opened up more lanes for Freitas as opposing defenses were unable to key-in on the Trojans’ star.
Senior quarterback Cole Powers became the game manager Petaluma needed throughout the season, remaining calm under pressure. In the game of the year, Powers led a fourth quarter drive to put away Justin-Siena in a hostile atmosphere in Napa. The most memorable moment was a fourth down pass to Jacob Havard with 2 minutes to go that clinched the game. Sophomore safety Jack Hartman credits leadership of players such as Powers for helping the team, saying, “The seniors led all of us and took control of the team. It was fun to play with them, they were really good teammates.”
That victory over Justin-Siena was a huge step for Petaluma as they won their first VVAL game, proving they could compete at the higher level. Freitas rushed for 248 yards as the prolific offense put up 450 yards. Freitas had a special ingredient to his performance of the season: “Adrenaline. I had to play this whole game sick and it is just natural. I also could not do what I did without the offensive line.”
Throughout the year, Petaluma looked better with Freitas on the field especially in the 31-28 victory over Justin-Siena. The senior running back also helped other Trojans on the field. He said, “In the huddle I keep everyone calm and motivate when things aren't good.” He finds that his bond with Powers is key because they have “a really good connection… and just how we work so everything is a lot smoother and easier when I am playing with him.”
Many players and coaches echo a similar sentiment of how the team’s tightness helped bring them together. Head Coach Rick Krist, in his ninth season at the helm of P-town football, said,
“They are just good kids. It’s been a pleasure to coach them. You can have the best players in the world but we had good leadership and it is a good group that I have known since they were little.” Petaluma needed those senior leaders and the tight bond more than ever in a heartbreaking end to the season.
After two straight VVAL routs over Sonoma Valley and Napa keyed by their defensive stars in senior linebackers Nick Ayers and Derrick Pomi and secondary leader, senior Connor Pederson, the Trojans came sprinting into the Egg Bowl against Casa Grande with high hopes. In one of the most memorable editions of the crosstown rivalry, the Gauchos outlasted the Trojans 36-35 in a classic game at Ellison Field. While Petaluma outgained Casa and likely outplayed them, the Trojans’ defense, sporadic throughout the year, could not stop a blistering Gaucho attack.
Suddenly a week later, after the NCS loss to Encinal where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Petaluma’s season was abruptly finished. Along with the heartbreaking Egg Bowl, these were challenging pills to swallow especially for the Trojans ending their careers. Petaluma may have been the second best team in VVAL, behind powerhouse Vintage, but their frustrating league opening loss at American Canyon helped lead to a fourth place finish. Krist’s sentiments after the Encinal loss surmised much of the tough season: “We couldn’t close anything. Just didn’t have it tonight.”
In May, a group of 40 boys get together. Over the next six months they toil under the summer sun, spend countless hours in the weight room and become a family. Through heartbreak, heroism and toughness, this team showed its grit. There were memorable victories and even more memorable losses. The team appeared young, but through senior leaders that led as much on the field as they did off the gridiron, the group grew quickly and was disciplined throughout the year. An emotional Freitas commented that the bond made an impact on him, saying, “The team aspect of the game [was remarkable], just getting closer with a great group of guys. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Everything has to come to an end and some end quicker than expected. This year was not the most successful Petaluma football season, but it will not be one anyone will forget anytime soon. They all worked together and found something in themselves, their teammates and in their school and community. If nothing else, this brought pride and joy to Petaluma supporters. For the final time they heard Coach Krist’s speech, joined in one last cheer and unlaced their shoes one last time. There is little certainty in life as they departed the bayside Alameda field. Individuals would part and live their own lives. Some would forget this night, maybe most nights, but the influence on this team would never leave their hearts. As they boarded the bus one final time, the lights on the field flickered out and signaled the end. The tears still wet on their cheeks, some stifled a smile. Six months prior they had come together as individuals on their own agendas from different lives and preceded down a road crafted in chaos.
The bus engine revved up and then purred. Paraded out of the gate, leaving the green grass they would never grace again. There was one final winding road. They took a right on Stargell, left on Webster and went through the tunnel, which swallowed them up and spit them out on the other side. They were gone forever- now as 40 men.