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Prolific Patterson pounces on Lancers
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PATTERSON — Whether Gabe Sanchez threw it, tucked it or handed it off, there was no stopping Patterson’s high-octane offense Friday in its Sac-Joaquin Section Division III opener against East Union.

Sanchez racked up 121 yards and three touchdowns on 8-of-11 passing and added 93 yards on 11 rushes to highlight the fourth-seeded Tigers’ lopsided 63-28 victory. It’s the third straight week they’ve eclipsed the 60-point mark, and they’ll next play host to No. 5 Vista del Lago on Friday, Nov. 17.

“We came in wanting to stop this and then they would do that,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “Then we’ll try to stop that and they’ll do this. They did a very good job, they’re very well coached and I thought their tempo was fantastic. 

“They did a great job of finding the mismatches and executed. We made adjustments and they’d go to the next thing. We just couldn’t slow it down. They were a machine tonight.”

The machine-like Tigers (10-1) churned out 317 of their 402 yards in the opening half when they built a commanding 42-14 lead. Slotback Kendrick Bond sprinted his way to 72 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries, adding two receptions, 32 yards and another score. 

Jacob Vainuku (11 rushes, 42 yards), a 5-foot-11, 235-pound battering ram, Phabian Threadgill (55 yards rushing, 13 receiving, two TDs), Kingston Mamea and 6-2 receiver Joe Okitukunda (three receptions, 61 yards) also got into the end zone.

While Patterson has a stable of impressive athletes, it’s a team that makes few mistakes, especially on offense.

“Patterson is incredibly well disciplined,” East Union lineman Jaysen Reindel said. “I compare them to a team like Central Catholic or Oakdale. Obviously, the score shows they’re that kind of team, but I also don’t think the score reflects how good we can play. 

“They’re an incredible team, hats off to them. They played with ferocity and really wanted it today. They deserve everything and that No. 4 seed is not a joke.”

After giving up the game’s first two touchdowns, the Lancers (7-4) did well to keep pace until turnovers did them in. Trailing 35-14, they had a chance to cut into the lead late in the second quarter and were set to take the opening kickoff in the second half. 

East Union was faced with fourth-and-6 from the Patterson 31 when quarterback JoJo Espinosa was dropped for a sack. He also lost the ball on the way down, and Vainuku picked it up and returned it near midfield. 

Patterson’s quick-strike attack made it hurt, scoring on Okitukunda’s 37-yard catch-and-run. It was part of a staggering 35-0 scoring spurt that helped the Tigers break away for good. Mamea, a 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker, picked off an Espinosa pass midway through the third quarter and returned it to the 2. He was rewarded with two goal-line carries, the second of which expanded the lead to 56-14.

“This group is a momentum team,” Herrera said. “They feed off of each other, so when something bad like that happens they look for that next guy to kind of pull it the other direction and it didn’t happen. Our boys didn’t quit, it just didn’t go our way. It doesn’t help when we’re trying to build the momentum and we make those mistakes.”

East Union finished with 255 yards of offense with Espinosa accounting for much of it. He rushed for 73 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries while finishing 8 of 15 passing for 61 yards after completing six of his first seven passes.

Isaiah Sholund (six rushes, 27 yards) plowed his way to a 1-yard touchdown on the Lancers’ final offensive possession of the season.

“This is the second year in a row we’ve been to the playoffs and first-round exit, so we’re going to use this as fire for next year,” Espinosa said. “It’s just motivation. We want to make a push in the playoffs.”

Espinosa is one of many juniors who played significant minutes, but Herrera said there is still much work to be done to end the program’s drought in the postseason. The Lancers haven’t won a playoff game since 1992.

“We’re trying to meet those new milestones,” Herrera said. “The goal this year was to make the playoffs and get out of the first round. We know we’re not there yet. We know we have to get better, we have to get stronger and we have to find some more speed to get there. (Patterson was) bigger, faster, stronger than us, and we have to be that team next year.”