For only the fourth time in the past 10 seasons, the Decatur Gator football team notched a win in week one.
“They found a way for the first time all camp to come out here and consistently give a high effort,” Head Coach Matt Vaeena said.
The Gators took down the Kentlake Falcons, 48-7, to open their 2023 regular season campaign at French Field on Aug 31.
Vaeena is entering his fourth year as Decatur’s head coach, and the 48 points against Kentlake ties the most points scored since he took over the program back in 2019.
“That’s cool,” Vaeena said on that accomplishment.
In the first quarter, Decatur jumped out to a 14-0 lead, with both scores coming via the ground game. Isaia Tagaloa scored the first touchdown of the season for Decatur and Nehemiah Washington cashed in with nine seconds left in the first quarter. After a failed 2 point and a converted 2 point, Decatur was on top 14-0 at the close of the first quarter.
“We felt like we had a pretty good game plan. Every week we felt good about it. Just never know how it’s going to play out. The kids came in and executed,” Vaeena said.
The Gators continued the dominating performance into the second quarter as well. With just under five minutes left in the half, Decatur went on to score twice. The first touchdown was a 32-yard punt return for a touchdown from Saul Ramirez, which put the Gators up 20-0.
The lone Gator passing touchdown came in the final seconds of the first half. Spencer Holloway scrambled to his right and found Jaliel Anderson for the score. Anderson did a good job of getting open while his QB was under duress, making a leaping athletic catch.
“It’s everybody’s payout season. We got a lot of seniors this year… All of us know what we’re doing. We’ve been in the system and now we know how to execute,” Holloway said.
When the halftime horn blew, Decatur had cruised to a 28-0 lead.
The Gators carried that momentum into the second half. After receiving the second half kickoff, Decatur drove the length of the field and cashed in a two-yard touchdown run from Washington.
On the following possession, Kentlake found the end of the end zone. A lengthy kick return from Marsais Dunmore needed a touchdown saving tackle from sophomore Devin Caoagdan, forcing the Falcon offense on the field. Kentlake senior quarterback Jacob McConaghy found Dunmore for a 23-yard touchdown catch and run, cutting the Gator lead to 34-7 with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
That would be all for the Falcons on the scoreboard in this contest. Decatur was honestly three plays away from a shutout.
“I really think our defense was very physical. We had a great effort out there, like five hats on the ball every play. I really think our effort is what pushed us through,” Holloway said, who had an interception of his own in the contest.
“The defense played lights out,” Vaeena said.
Decatur marched down the field and with the last few seconds waning off the third quarter clock, Holloway finished a great night offensively with a 13-yard touchdown run. Going into the fourth quarter, Decatur was on top 42-7.
The away side also got some valuable playing time from sophomore Jasonni Prum. The dual threat QB led the Gators on their final scoring drive, putting the icing on the cake with a 2 yard score from junior Jerin Franada.
“Me and Jasonni have great chemistry. We don’t really fight over it (starting). We’re both just trying to help the team win as many games as possible,” Holloway said.
“We haven’t had one really come to take the job yet. They’re probably being evaluated through this and two and three games. It was good to see them step up. They’re both young guys, it was good to see them have success tonight,” Vaeena said on his QB’s.
Changing the culture of Decatur football is no small task. The Gators haven’t had a winning season since 2004, according to the Max Preps database. These types of games can go a long way to changing that culture.
“That’s one of the things we talked about all week, ‘Who do we want to be’… It’s a good first step. I think there are still a lot of things to work on,” Vaeena said.
One area of improvement is penalties. There were a couple of extracurricular penalties that weren’t all negative.
“Honestly it cost us a few unsportsman-likes’ but in their minds they are sticking up for each other. Reality is you don’t have to do that. It was a good showing in week one, but a lot to clean up,” Vaeena said.