Whitney quarterback has nowhere to hide

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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A Pioneer High School fan wasted no time in reminding the Patriots of which player they had to stop. “Get No. 7!” The boisterous fan issued the alert just as Friday night’s game unfolded in Woodland. It is no secret that Whitney quarterback Jake Rodrigues, who is the owner of the No. 7 jersey, has become a marked man. Stopping the Wildcats offense begins with containing Rodrigues. “Everybody wants to stop No. 7,” Whitney head coach Mike Gimenez said. “It’s tough for him because he knows he’s going to hit every game. He’s learning to deal with that, and that takes time.” Pioneer could do not it. Rodrigues threw for two touchdowns and ran for two in Whitney’s 27-22 victory. Whitney will face Del Oro in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinals this week. Del Oro is 7-4 and riding a five-game winning streak. The 11th-seeded Golden Eagles had an easy time in the first round of the playoffs, rolling to a 58-7 victory over No. 6 East Union in Manteca. The Golden Eagles have not lost since dropping a 27-18 decision at home to Rocklin on Oct. 8. That was four weeks after Rocklin whipped Whitney 48-19 in the inaugural Quarry Bowl. Do the math and Del Oro should be a 20-point favorite against Whitney. The folks who devised the playoff brackets did not expect the Wildcats to get to the second round, seeding them 14th. Whitney is the only 14th seed still standing in Divisions I, II and III. Many fans attending the Quarry Bowl were shocked when Gimenez did not pull Rodrigues in the fourth quarter with Rocklin cruising. Maybe Gimenez knew the junior would not leave the field. “I would not have let him take me out,” Rodrigues said. “There’s no exception for me in that matter.” Rodrigues does not expect to be treated any differently than his teammates, whom he called “his brothers.” He is unique, though, in that he can get away with speaking his mind to Gimenez. “We yell at each other and we laugh at each other. And we also talk,” said Gimenez, who was a quarterback during his days at Woodland High and Colorado State. “We need to have that rapport. He has to have the freedom to say what he wants.” A disagreement with Gimenez is more like a family feud for Rodrigues because they are like “father and son,” the quarterback said. “It’s like he’s part of my family and I’m part of his family. “We’re comfortable enough to argue.” His teammates would not think of doing that, so they have turned Rodrigues into a “little transmitter,” for sending messages to Gimenez. “We tell him what’s going on and he tells the coach,” senior running back Shawn Azam said. “Jake has a lot more confidence. He’s more controlling of the offense, and that’s a good thing.” Azam’s hamstring issues earlier this season led to Gimenez calling more running plays for Rodrigues. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Rodrigues is Whitney’s best bet in short-yardage situations. “He can get through the line even if someone misses a block,” said guard Thaddeus Cox, who was promoted to the varsity team last season along with Rodrigues and two other sophomores. Rodrigues carried the ball five times during Whitney’s drive for the go-ahead touchdown Friday. He also completed all four of his passes, including a 37-yarder to junior wide receiver Corey Palin. A fourth-down facemask penalty against the Patriots gave the Wildcats a first down at Pioneer’s 15-yard line. Two runs by Rodrigues led to his 2-yard scoring plunge with 1:25 to play. “When the game’s one the line, we know he’s going to make the play,” senior tackle Zac Post said. “We can always count on him.” The touchdown run was Rodrigues’ second of the night. He also threw two scoring passes to Palin, who had six receptions for 124 yards. Rodrigues passed for 187 yards and rushed for 80. Rodrigues has as many touchdowns rushing (21) as he does passing. He has thrown for 2,037 yards and run for 1,190. The 100-yard receiving game was Palin’s first in six weeks and sixth of the season. Given the success of the Wildcats’ running game in recent weeks, Palin has become proficient at blocking. Palin is doing his part for the team. Rodrigues is doing the same but is attracting far more attention. Get No. 7? Del Oro might also want to think about stopping Nos. 8, 9, 10, 12, 21 and 32. That would be Palin, Christian Daniels, Jimmy Feyster, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Azam and Connor Graves. Feyster and Azam are seniors. Palin has 11 touchdown receptions. The 6-5, 255-pound Cope-Fitzpatrick has seven at tight end. “Our team is more than one guy,” Rodrigues said. “If I don’t have everybody else, I’m nothing.”