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Big-play O, defense spark Cougars at EU
FB--Weston Ranch-East Union pic 1
Weston Ranch running back Erron Duncan tightens his grip on the ball before getting wrapped up by East Union linebacker Joseph Reynaga. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Rain is supposed to help neutralize fast athletes on a slippery football field.

Marque Watson and the Weston Ranch Cougars welcomed it at Dino Cunial Field, where host East Union was previously undefeated this season until Friday’s 14-8 setback.

“Honestly, we just like the game of football, baby,” the fleet-of-foot receiver said. “I love to play the game.”

Weston Ranch (2-4 Valley Oak League, 3-6 overall) bucked conventional wisdom by breaking two big plays that tilted the momentum in its favor.

The first was made by Watson, who reeled in a long toss from Muhammad Khan (7 of 18, 164 yards) down the right sideline for a 72-yard touchdown with 50.6 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Watson finished with five catches and 122 yards.

“When I’m on that island all I think about is that I have to make the play for the team,” Watson said.

He also had a big 8-yard catch on third-and-12 in the red zone to keep Weston Ranch’s game-deciding drive alive in the fourth quarter.

The highlight of the possession, however, belonged to Erron Duncan. The electric tailback dashed 71 yards — from the Weston Ranch 13 to East Union’s 16 — before he was brought down by Isaiah Cormier. Duncan (118 yards rushing, 50 receiving) limped off the field with an apparent ankle injury but the Cougars continued to roll along without him.

After Watson’s final reception, Robert Strother converted on fourth-and-4 and scampered into the end zone from 10 yards out to give Weston Ranch the lead for good with 1:09 remaining.

“They had two big plays, that’s it,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “We lost because of two big plays.”

The Lancers (2-4, 3-6) still had chances to overcome them, even in the end. Sophomore quarterback Jack Weaver marched the East Union offense downfield, coming up with gains of 6, 10 and 12 yards on the run. His 13-yard pass to Austin Miller during the drive was his only completion of the game, as he finished 1 of 14.

Aided by a third-down pass interference penalty, East Union was able to penetrate Weston Ranch’s red zone for a fourth time. And for the fourth time the Lancers came up empty-handed.

They believed they had the tying touchdown when Weaver connected with Taariq Davis in the back of the end zone, but the back judge ruled that the catch was made out of bounds.

Then, on the games final play, Weston Ranch linebacker/defensive lineman Jordan Tauga sacked Weaver for the second time in the game.

“When you get opportunities you have to take advantage of them,” Herrera said. “Opportunity after opportunity we just let it slip out of our hands tonight. We didn’t seal the deal when we could have sealed the deal. That’s the story.”

Weston Ranch’s bend-don’t-break defense certainly deserves some of the credit. East Union scored its touchdown on Darian Joseph’s 64-yard kickoff return, which answered Watson’s score late in the first quarter. Weaver hit tight end Lorenzo Gonzales on the two-point conversion to tie it 8-8 with 40.6 to go.

East Union had nine different ball carriers that combined for 188 yards. Weaver was its leading rusher with 64 yards on 16 attempts.

“The defense stepped up big time,” Coach Davis said. “All season I’ve been asking them to get me a shutout and they did it tonight.”