NOVATO -- Novato High senior quarterback Robbie Cassee shrugged off a stuttering start Saturday against visiting Dougherty Valley.
"No worries," Cassee said to himself at halftime. "We got this."
Cassee's confidence was justified as the Hornets, after falling behind 8-7 in the second quarter, scored 24 unanswered points to pull away from Dougherty Valley 31-8 in a nonleague football opener for both teams.
"Hey, it was the first game," Cassee said. "We were a little rusty early. But we shook off the rust, picked it up and everyone just kept doing their job."
Novato forced six turnovers by the Wildcats.
Novato's first score came in the second quarter Nathaniel Barkus bulled into the end zone from a yard out. The big play of the six-play, 30-yard scoring drive was a quick-hit 24-yard reception and run from Cassee to Ben Putman on a fourth-and-7.
Putman ended the day with five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, and two interceptions, including one with a 25-yard return for a touchdown that counted.
"Ben might be the best receiver in the league," said Cassee, who clicked on 9 of 21 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. "I always look for him because it seems likes he's always open."
About the only hiccup for the Novato defense came moments after its offense had given them a 7-0 lead. A 42-yard kickoff return set up a three-play Dougherty Valley scoring drive, which was highlighted by Sam Tarasow's 34-yard run and capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Michael Pangelinan, the Wildcats' leading rusher from a season ago.
At the end of the second quarter, a Jeremy Sison fumble recovery at midfield set the table for Novato to take the lead for good. But the eventual 17-yard touchdown toss from Cassee to Putman came about in a rather unusual way.
The Hornets were stopped on a third-and-5 and sent out Jackson Wegner for a 41-yard field-goal attempt. Wegner's low kick was blocked at the line of scrimmage and both teams were content to watch the ball spin around and finally settle on the ground.
About five seconds later, Novato's Hunter Wegner, the kicker's brother, picked up the ball and raced toward the end zone. Meanwhile, the referee was blowing his whistle madly, signaling the play was over.
After some consultation by the officials, Novato was awarded possession of the ball at the 17, apparently the spot where the whistle was blown when the ball was finally retrieved.
Novato dominated the second half behind the standout defensive play of linebacker Ian Roberts, Putman and lineman Chris Fletcher, who forced two fumbles and recorded a sack.
"The defense played a good game," Searle said. "If they play like that, our offense is going to score some points and we can be pretty good."
Novato's offense fashioned its best sustained drive of the game to start the second half. The Hornets traveled 80 yards on 11 plays and put the ball in the end zone when Cassee floated a perfect pass down the left sideline hauled down in stride by Jordan Polera for a 25-yard touchdown.
Novato 31, Dougherty Valley 8
Dougherty Val. 0 8 0 0-- 8
Novato 0 14 7 10-- 31
N -- Barkus 1 run (J. Wegner kick)
DV -- Pangelinan 2 run (Montano run)
N -- Putman 17 pass from Cassee (J. Wegner kick)
N -- Polera 35 pass from Cassee (J. Wegner kick)
N -- Putman 25 INT return (J. Wegner kick)
N -- J. Wegner 18 FG
Rushing: DV -- Prendez 5-14, Montano 5-(-7), Pangelinan 7-44, Dean 3-7, Tarasow 5-63, Ruckman 2-5, Bradley 2-12. Totals 29-138. N -- Barkus 14-83, Putman 2-(-2), Sumpter 6-(-10), Dreher 4-11, O'Neil 1-3, Viezcas 8-28. Totals 35-113. Passing: DV -- Montano 5-12-3 43. N -- Cassee 9-21-1 175, Dreher 0-1-0 0. Totals 9-22-1 175. Receiving: DV -- Phillips 2-16, Ruckman 1-7, Tarasow 1-11, Jew 1-9. N -- Putman 5-99, Sumpter 1-14, Polera 1-35, H. Wegner 1-11, Viezcas 1-16. Records: Novato 1-0, Dougherty Valley 0-1.