TRACY — In a sloppy season opener totaling eight turnovers and few offensive highlights, Lathrop running back Michael Ramos made the biggest play as the Spartans escaped at West’s Steve Lopez Stadium with a 21-14 win on Friday.
It was his 70-yard touchdown up the right sideline that put the Spartans ahead for good with 3:33 remaining. Ramos made up for an earlier fumble on Lathrop’s own 10 that allowed West to score its first points of the game in the third quarter.
The Wolf Pack was again given a short field to work with on the ensuing drive when a high snap on a punt set it up on the 4. Two plays later, Ruben Murrillo barreled into the end zone as West jumped ahead, 14-13.
“There were a lot of mistakes in this game,” Ramos said “I just had to keep my composure and try and get us back in the game. I didn’t want to let my team down.
“I read the hole and the linemen did a great job of getting their blocks,” Ramos said of his touchdown. “After I broke through the secondary that was it — I just had to take it to the house.”
Although it wasn’t pretty, Lathrop will gladly take the win — its first to open a season. The Spartans are coming off a milestone-laden 2015 in which they finished 6-5 and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time.
“The goal is to go to the playoffs and win it all,” Lathrop inside linebacker Idowu Olaleye said. “This is just one win down with nine more games to go in the regular season.”
Olaleye led a stingy defense that recovered four fumbles for turners — three in the first quarter — and recorded four sacks. West was limited to just 122 yards, 37 coming through the air. Lathrop’s costly miscues in the third quarter prevented the shutout, but second-year head coach Joe Pirillo was proud of his team’s resolve.
“Our boys were challenged in a game where they faced adversity,” Pirillo said. “It’s something we talk about. We always say there’s going to be a time where everything goes against you, and I think they responded very well. We were fortunate at times, got a little lucky, but we also have some athletes out there who can make things happen.”
Lathrop dominated the opening half, running 44 plays to West’s 19 while taking a 13-0 lead into the break. The Spartans could have led by a wider margin if not for an interception in the end zone by West cornerback Emmanuel Turner, who ended up with two picks.
Keonnee Linnell (17 of 38, 180 yards, three interceptions) had an inconsistent varsity debut as Lathrop’s quarterback, but he was able to sustain drives by connecting on several third-and-long passes. He hit fullback Prinston Fontenberry from 4 yards out to give Lathrop its 13-0 advantage with 21 seconds left in the second quarter. Tremayne Tuipuloto Willis Jr. scored the first touchdown on a 4-yard run.
Lathrop finished with 314 yards of offense.
“It’s exactly what I expected,” Pirillo said of Linnell’s effort. “It’s going to be up and it’s going to be down, but when it mattered most Keonnee came through. It was just jitters (at the start). He dropped the snap a couple of times but maintained his composure. That’s what kind of kid he is.”