By Kevin Askeland
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – When Nick Montana transferred to Oaks Christian, it was expected that he would make big plays with his arm, but it was a play he made with his legs that turned the tide in the Lions’ season-opening 35-7 win over host Bakersfield Christian on Friday.
The son of former NFL great Joe Montana, the younger Montana transferred to Oaks Christian from De La Salle during the summer sparking a quarterback competition that included Montana and former St. Bonaventure starter Tony Macarena.
Montana won the starting nod and got the Lions off to an early lead in their season opener with a pair of touchdown passes in the first half against the Eagles, who figure to be the team to beat in the Central Section Division 5 this year.
Despite the two touchdown throws, however, the Lions held just a 14-7 lead at the half and barely avoided a tie game when a fourth-down run by the Eagles fell six inches short of the goal line at the start of the third quarter.
That’s when Montana took matters into his own hands. On first down from the Oaks Christian 23, Montana faked a handoff to junior standout running back Malcolm Jones and sprinted through a hole in the left side of the Bakersfield Christian defense for a 48-yard gain.
The play sparked a Lions offense that had stagnated due to fumble problems. Although a screen pass lost three yards, Montana completed a 16-yard pass to Jones on a crossing pattern and finished the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Chris Coyle in the corner of the end zone.
Oaks Christian went on to score two more times, including a 2-yard run by Jones and a 16-yard run by Jordan Morrison, to finish with a 35-7 win.
“I think them not scoring when they got close really changed the momentum,” said Oaks Christian coach Bill Redell. “They really took it to us. They controlled the ball and that kept us from really being able to run our offense. That’s a good ballclub over there.”
Montana finished 7 of 12 for 131 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was not the leading passer in the game. Bakersfield Christian’s Derek Carr, the brother of NFL quarterback David Carr, guided the Eagle spread offense for the first time since transferring from Houston, Texas. Although he battled cramps late in the game, which led to a pair of interceptions, Carr looked comfortable running the Eagle offense.
“He made a couple of mistakes there at the end, but he did some really good things out there tonight,” said Eagle coach Doug Barnett. “I know the score isn’t what we would have liked, but I couldn’t be more proud of these kids. We got into the red zone three times and didn’t score so that was disappointing, but these kids did a great job.”
Carr finished 23 of 44 for 229 yards and a touchdown to go with three interceptions. Despite the loss, Carr, whose brother David played at Stockdale before heading to Fresno State and an NFL career, said it was good to be home again.
“We had about 80 family members here tonight,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling to be here. I talked to my brother before the game and he just told me to go out and have fun.”
Carr helped keep Bakersfield Christian in the game after it looked like Oaks Christian might run away from the Eagles in the early going. On the first play from scrimmage, Carr connected with Colby Herron on a razzle-dazzle play in which Carr went in motion and running back Christian Taylor took the direct snap. Taylor then handed off to Carr, who had circled around, and he threw 42-yards to a wide open Herron.
The drive bogged down at the 9-yard line, however, and a 26-yard field goal attempt proved unsuccessful.
Oaks Christian took possession and Jones immediately established his presence with a 39-yard run on first down. A penalty stalled the drive, however, and the Lions had to punt. The Eagles suffered the same fate and kicked the ball back to the Lions who took over at their own 48.
It took Montana and Jones just two plays to get the first score of the game. Jones carried on a 27-yard gain and Montana threw to Coyle for a 25-yard touchdown on the next play to put Oaks Christian up 7-0.
The Lions added to their lead just before the end of the first quarter. This time Jones lined up in the slot and Montana hit him on a crossing pattern over the middle. Jones outraced the Eagle defense 40 yards to put the Lions up 14-0.
A fumble by Jones, however, helped lead to the Eagles’ first score of the night. Aryton Oliver recovered Jones’ bobble at the Lions 45 and Carr drove the Eagles 55 yards for the touchdown. It looked like Bakersfield Christian might not get into the end zone when it was called for delay of game on fourth down with the ball on the 7. But Carr avoided the Oaks Christian rush and sidearmed a pass to Jake Peterson on a slant for the 12-yard touchdown.
The Eagles nearly tied the game early in the second half, but came up six inches short.
On the first play of the third quarter, Jones fumbled for the third time and Austin Tillema recovered for BC. In his frustration following the play, Jones threw down his helmet and was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty.
The turnover and penalty gave the Eagles the ball at the 22. Carr threw to Peterson for 12 yards for a first down at the 10 with goal to go. Carr was sacked on the next play and threw an incomplete pass on second down. A pass to Herron put the ball at the 3 to set up fourth down.
The Eagles had the right play called as Darion Nunn carried on a reverse and appeared to have room to get into the end zone. However two Lion defenders moved into position for the tackle and Nunn tried to dive for the goal line. In his attempt to reach the goal, Nunn’s knee hit the ground before he was able to get the ball over. The Lions eventually punted and then scored on their next series following Montana’s key run.
Jones finished with 111 yards on 15 carries with one rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. He also came up with several big plays following his third fumble and unsportsmanlike penalty.
“After that third fumble, I just got upset because I was thinking ‘I’m better than this,’” said Jones. “I was just nervous. But I was able to come back and have a good second half.”
Besides scoring on a 2-yard run in the second half, Jones set up the touchdown with an acrobatic, leaping interception. He also had a big hit on a Statue of Liberty play that dropped the Eagle runner for a 4-yard loss. His 16-yard reception in the third quarter also set up the Lions’ third touchdown of the game.
The game was played in front of a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 5,000 that featured its fair share of celebrities. Joe Montana was in attendance with his family to watch his son. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky and movie star Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith were also there to watch their sons play in the junior varsity game. Trevor Gretzky threw a 33-yard touchdown pass and ran for a touchdown in a 28-14 Oaks Christian JV win. Meanwhile Trey Smith had two touchdowns, a 50-yard punt return and a 60-yard reverse, called back due to penalties.
The varsity game began with a special tribute to fallen Bakersfield Christian football player Patrick Allen, who passed away Aug. 15. Hundreds of Eagle fans wore t-shirts honoring Allen with his No. 51 on the back. Allen’s parents also participated in the coin toss and were awarded the game ball following the first play of the game. In a true show of class by both teams, the Oaks Christian and Bakersfield Christian players all shook hands with Allen’s parents before play resumed.
OAKS CHRISTIAN 35, BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN 7
OC – Coyle 25 pass from Montana (Campbell Davis kick).
OC – Jones 40 pass from Montana (Davis kick).
BC – Peterson 12 pass from Carr (Bryce Howes kick).
OC – Coyle 16 pass from Montana (Davis kick).
OC – Jones 2 run (Davis kick).
OC – Jordan Morrison 16 run (Davis kick).