LATHROP — It is evident that Lathrop has made strides to be a more competitive football team.
The Spartans proved as much Friday at Bennie Gatto Field against Galt’s Liberty Ranch, a school that opened in 2009-10 — a year after Lathrop — but has had greater success.
But Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.
First-year head coach Steven Wichman, at the very least, has something to build on following Lathrop’s 21-12 season-opening loss. Liberty Ranch, which dropped a tough 17-15 zero-week tilt at Amador, evened its record to 1-1.
The Hawks overcame sloppy play that included five fumbles (two lost) and two interceptions. They were led by Trevon Windley’s 248 yards of offense (136 rushing) and two touchdowns and outgained Lathrop, 373-205.
Lathrop entered the season having won just four games in four years. It remains to be seen if 2013 marks the turnaround, but its young head coach believes it already has.
“Regardless of (Liberty Ranch’s) playoff aspirations, we feel like that’s a team that we should beat — hands down,” Wichman said. “We don’t really have anything to gauge ourselves off of right now because last year we were an 0-10 football team, (but) we’re now a much different team. And that’s a team we should have beaten tonight.”
Lathrop certainly had its chances, but it was done in by drive-killing turnovers and sacks and an inability to get the defense off the field while presented favorable third-and-long situations.
The biggest swing came on the opening drive of the second half. Liberty Ranch faced third-and-17 from its own 18, but quarterback William Ranse Gale hit Windley for a deep pass near the Lathrop 40. From there, Windley shook off two would-be tackles and strolled into the end zone to give the Hawks the lead for good, 13-9.
Windley earlier had a 25-yard catch on third-and-16 during Liberty Ranch’s first drive of the game. That series, which spanned 13 plays and 7 minutes, 23 seconds, was punctuated by Windley’s 4-yard scamper.
“Whichever team can control the momentum for the longest period of time out there on the field is usually the team that wins,” Wichman said. “We had numerous situations that should have been beneficial for us but we didn’t convert. That’s just more momentum on their side. Our players need to learn that when we are in those situations we have to take advantage of them.”
Lathrop did have some nice moments and solid contributions from several different players.
Defensively, Karman Dhaliwal and Khari Williams each had an interception in the first half. Ian Chavez recovered a fumble for a turnover and blocked a PAT.
Fullback Hawaii Leaf a’ Teo pounded out 58 yards on 13 carries and appears to be the Spartans’ workhorse-in-the-making. Kenny Garrett (13 of 28, 133 yards, TD) displayed the arm and poise to be an effective signal caller. He connected with Sim Bassi five times for 43 yards, and Nathan Ogunbanwo for three receptions, 40 yards and a TD.
Garrett did, however, take four sacks for losses of 17, 2, 9 and 17 yards. He also threw two interceptions on deep balls inside the Liberty Ranch 20 in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Kenny played very well at times,” Wichman said. “We’re going to watch some film and learn about some down-and-distance situations and getting rid of the ball instead of taking sacks. Our playbook gets real narrow on us when get in those third-and-longs.”
Lathrop’s nonleague schedule only gets tougher, as it heads to Capital Christian (Sacramento) and Ripon the next two weeks to square off with two squads that were seeded in the top four of last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.