The game between Richmond and El Cerrito on Thursday evening was decided much before the final whistle. It was an exercise in waiting for the final score and for the Richmond High fans, the score was dismal: El Cerrito 58, Richmond 6.
On the sidelines during the game, the Oilers had six players to the Gauchos’ 21. On the field it was 11 against 11, but the Oilers seemed to be outnumbered there as well. The Richmond defense seemed to have gaping holes that the El Cerrito players breezed past, rushed through and sometimes slid under for their several touchdowns. And when the Richmond players had the ball, they moved hesitantly, as if trying to find their ways out of a labyrinth, only to be swarmed and pinned down by a group of Gauchos.
The Oilers just couldn’t get past the El Cerrito defense, except for Richmond star Isaiah Brown, who all through the game was jumping to catch the ball, turning and twisting to avoid the El Cerrito defenders, and running with the ball closed in his arms and the touchdown locked in his eyes. But one man against 11, he almost always lost except for his — and Richmond’s — only touchdown, which came on a 90-yard kickoff return in the second minute of the first quarter. That touchdown made the score 7-6 El Cerrito, and was as close as Richmond got. The Oilers never looked like winning.
Richmond is yet to win a game on the field this season; their only victory came by forfeit after the opposing team couldn’t gather enough players. This was their seventh defeat of the season, and the streak extends to the last season as well.
While the players struggled on the field, on the sidelines, the Richmond cheerleaders had a game of their own. Dressed in the traditional red and blue, they danced all through the game — sometimes on their toes like ballerinas and sometimes twisting and turning like gymnasts; their synchronized movements a contrast to what was happening on the field. With their backs to the game half of the time, they kept dancing, unconcerned about the state of the game, singing songs of victory and power.
One of the cheerleaders, Jackie Harrison, a Richmond High junior, has been cheering for two years now. It was hard for her to remember when the team last won a game. “It was a long time ago,” she said. “But we support our team anyway, we want them to win.”
And she started dancing again, standing on the right toe and then on the left with a red pom-pom raised high up in her hands. Together the 12 cheerleaders sang, “We are No 1.”
At the half time, Richmond was still stuck at 6 points and the Gauchos had reached 35; it looked like a one sided battle already. In the locker room, Tashaka Merriwetherr, the Richmond coach, knowing the odds against his team, told them that they had done well until now.
“Now, you need to focus and accelerate,” he said. “They aren’t as good as they think they are. Are they feeling us?”
“Yes,” the team shouted back.
Merriweatherr has few players to choose from and in a game where players shuttle between the field and sidelines almost all the time, he is at a major loss.
“I have to work with what I have got,” he said. “If I could change one thing with my team, I would make them more disciplined. But what they lack in discipline, they make up with heart.”
On the field though, discipline, skill and team size were beating heart. Even after the unexciting first half, the stands stayed considerably filled with people, most of them supporting the Oilers; there were mothers feeding young children, boys and girls talking and laughing among themselves, and some people with grave faces looking at the spectacle of a one-sided game unfolding on the shining artificial turf.
Occasionally, when an Oilers’ player made a decent run, the aluminum stands thumped under the spectators feet like large drums, accompanied by the sound of cheers and clapping until yet another marvelous little run was cut short by the El Cerrito defense.
Though they didn’t bring cheerleaders, the El Cerrito sideline was much more crowded, with the 21 reserves dressed in white and their seven coaches dressed in black; feeding off the energy of their performance it was also much more passionate and exuberant as player subbed in and out. With the win El Cerrito improved to 4-1 on the season.
The bench strength certainly saved any of the El Cerrito players from getting drained out like their Richmond High opponents who, with their six reserves, didn’t get much rest. They were on the field most of the time, trying to defend against the Gaucho onslaught until the game turned into the kind of one-sided match even the winners don’t enjoy much.
Reporting contributed by Derek Lartaud. Photo slideshow by Rachel Waldholz.