College of the Redwoods

Defense impresses, but Corsairs drop season opener at Merced

The College of the Redwoods defense came ready to play on Saturday, as the Corsairs competed in their first football game in almost three years.

Unfortunately, it was wasn’t enough as they fell 27-19 at Merced College to kick off the new era for the local community college.

While the defense impressed, the CR offense and special teams both had an up-and-down day with plenty of room for improvement.

“Our defense played extremely well. I’m really proud of them,” head coach Jason White said. “They were put in some tough situations and they dug themselves out.”

Several players stood out on the defensive side of the ball, with former Eureka Logger Maximus Tapulaaia providing the highlight play when he returned an interception four yards for a touchdown.

Mason Priddy also had a highlight play when he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a TD, although the CR special teams also gave up a touchdown.

“On special teams, we did some pretty good things and we did some bad things,” White said. “So there’s room for improvement there.”

Offensively, the Corsairs moved the ball well at times between the 20s, but converted on just one of five trips to the red zone, when quarterback Teagan Gaither connected with tight end Kaleb Price on a 12-yard TD pass.

CR ran the ball efficiently, but the passing game left a lot to be desired, with Gaither and Max Hough both seeing action and combining to complete just 11 of 31 passes for 71 yards.

“We did not throw the ball as well as needed to,” said White.

Defense, however, was a very different story.

“Our whole defense was really good, and we’re going to get better and better,” the head coach said.

As expected, Del Norte’s Tanner Forkner had an impressive debut and helped set the tone at linebacker, finishing with five solo tackles and two assists.

Defensive tackle Julian Garcia also had a big debut with the team and finished with seven solo tackles, including one for a loss.

Defensive ended Jayden Sandusky also had an impact on the line with four solo tackles, four assists and a tackle for a loss.

A deep pool of running backs all saw action, with Levi Cox-Cooley, Gabe Ward, Emmanuel Igbonagwam and Levi Nyberg all contributing.

“I don’t feel like any of them played poorly,” White said of the running backs. “We’re still seeing what they’re capable of.”

Hough and Gaither both ran the ball effectively as well, combining for 54 yards on 12 carries.

It didn’t help that the Corsairs had only six offensive linemen suit up after two went down injured in practice earlier in the week, and the fact they were playing in hot temperatures in Merced was “definitely a factor,” according to the coach.

Both missing linemen are expected back soon.

“What made me feel good is how hard we played the whole time,” White said. “We played as a team and nobody got down on each other.”

The Corsairs will return to the North Coast to host San Jose City College at the Redwood Bowl next Saturday.

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