Cowboys Pastrana’s five interceptions matches state record
By Kyle LoJacono
The Gaither football team forced nine turnovers in a 37-7 home victory against Class 7A-District 7 rival Steinbrenner on Oct. 6.
The Cowboys (3-2) defense got constant penetration into the Warriors (3-2) backfield, forcing Steinbrenner out of its run-heavy wing-T offense. The move to a passing attack gave Gaither safety Eddie Pastrana the opportunity to write his name in the school’s record books.
Pastrana had five interceptions, setting a program record and matching a state single-game record.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Pastrana said. “Everyone’s telling me I broke a record, but I’m just thinking about the W.”
Pastrana is new to football, picking up the game during the spring. He played centerfield on the Cowboys baseball team, and used many of the skills he developed tracking down fly balls to his advantage against Steinbrenner.
The majority of the interceptions came on overthrows, where Pastrana had time to locate the pass and make a play on the ball without worrying about the receiver coming up with the catch.
“They started throwing deep more, and when I got the first two I thought they might stop,” Pastrana said. “Then they threw another and another and I was thinking why are they still doing that? When I went to the sidelines coach said that’s what happens when we shut down the run and take someone out of their game.”
Gaither coach Jason Stokes said the goal was to make the Warriors abandon the wing-T.
“We said we had to shut down that run, and we did a good job of that,” Stokes said. “We really were blessed with a lot of turnovers, which I think forced them to get out of what they wanted to do.”
Cowboy defenders Josh Scarberry and Jelani Ottley each recovered a fumble, and Nick Sampson retrieved a pair. Ottley returned his 61 yards to the Steinbrenner 4-yard line, while Scarberry took his into the end zone on a 12-yard return to score the game’s final points in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not surprised because our defense practices like that every day,” Stokes said. “Just intense, loud, out of their mind and it shows on the field. You play how you practice.”
Gaither’s Shug Oyegunle lined up at almost every offensive position except on the line. He scored the game’s first touchdown while playing quarterback deep in Cowboys territory when he broke off a 92-yard run.
“They almost had me, but I saw a hole that opened up,” Oyegunle said. “When I got through that I saw a lot of space and just kept running.”
Oyegunle added a 7-yard rushing score and a 4-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Alex McGough. Oyegunle finished with 143 total yards.
“Shug is a versatile player, and we’re going to use that versatility to cause problems for other teams any way we can,” Stokes said. “It can be at quarterback, running back, receiver and he could even play cornerback or punt returner/kick returner if we needed.”
Oyegunle said he likes moving all over the field and in combination with McGough at quarterback.
“We call it a duo,” Oyegunle said. “We both do things that make it hard for the defense to know what we’re going to do. We’re just coming together to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
McGough went 7-for-12 passing for 45 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His score was a 21-yard connection with Demarcus Sexil.
Steinbrenner’s lone touchdown came on a 2-yard run by Zack Jones, who finished with 88 total yards. Sophomore quarterback Curtis Fitch went 8-for-14 passing for 103 yards, but he was sacked four times and threw four interceptions.
Warrior defensive back Andrew Feldhaus intercepted McGough in the third quarter. Linebacker A.J. Brown recorded two sacks and recovered a fumble, while Daniel Villar blocked a punt on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The win keeps Gaither tied at the top of the district with Tampa Bay Tech, which the Cowboys play on the road on Friday, Nov. 4. It will be the final 7A-7 contest of the season for both squads.
“I’m not going to overlook Chamberlain or Freedom in the district,” Stokes said.
Gaither travels to East Bay on Friday, Oct. 14, while Steinbrenner visits Riverview. Both games are at 7:30 p.m.
Cowboys offensive rebirth
The Gaither football team’s offense has not been its strength the last few seasons, but the Cowboy attack appears on the right path in 2011.
The squad has scored 145 points through its first five games, more than the 121 Gaither put up all of last year.
The Cowboys have posted 39 and 37 points in their last two games, respectively. The last time Gaither had scored at least 35 points in a contest was in a 42-35 loss to Wharton in 2008.
Junior Shug Oyegunle said there is a level of confidence on the team not present in past years.
“I think we can go anywhere we want to go this year as long as we put our minds to it,” Oyegunle said. “We just need to think about that every single play. Right now we’re really feeling comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Gaither first-year coach Jason Stokes said his offensive philosophy is to use his players’ strengths instead of making them fit into a predetermined system. That point is illustrated by his use of Oyegunle and Alex McGough at quarterback.
“We have Shug, who is a great athlete, and we have Alex, who has a lot of other great abilities, so we do whatever we can to use them both,” Stokes said. “It gives our offense something else for defenses to think about, and it makes us more flexible.”
The improving offense has translated into wins. The Cowboys’ 3-2 record is the best through five games for the program since going 4-1 in 2007, the last time the squad won a district championship.
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