Noah Cozart dropped three passes from his quarterback, Max Medina, during Patterson High’s 20-14 season-opening victory over Hilmar on Friday night at McSweeney Field. But when the game was on the line, his hands were sure.
Cozart, a sophomore who also plays defensive back, picked off a Hudson Azevedo pass with 48 seconds to play, helping his team seal a come-from-behind victory over the Yellowjackets on Senior Night.
“The drops kind of affected me on offense,” admitted Cozart, the nephew of head coach Rob Cozart. “But once I started making some big tackles on defense, I knew I’d make a big play to help the team.”
Patterson held a six-point advantage thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Medina to Fernando Herrera – plus a two-point conversion pass from Medina to Lolo Mataele – with 4 minutes to play in the game.
After Christian Casillas’ kickoff sailed into the end zone, the Yellowjackets set up shop at their own 20. Four plays later, facing third-and-9 from the 40, Azevedo hit Luke Cox for a 35-yard gain to the Tigers’ 25. With about 2 minutes to play, Hilmar had plenty of time. But after a 4-yard gain on first down, Hilmar lost 5 on second down, bringing up third-and-11. Azevedo dropped back to pass, was hurried, and threw over the middle. Cozart was waiting and picked off the ball at the 11. For a moment he had visions of a pick-six, but thought better of it and took a knee at the 16.
“That was kind of a desperation attempt,” said Azevedo, who completed 15 of 30 passes for 311 yards, with one TD and three interceptions. “The left linebacker came unblocked and I was just trying to make a play. I didn’t want to take a sack there.”
Azevedo was playing in his first game since his sophomore season. He sat out all of last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. At times Friday, he looked like a quarterback trying to shake off the rust. At others, he looked like the promising prospect who was slated to start as a junior.
Azevedo completed seven of his last nine attempts for 206 yards – one of those a 93-yard TD strike to Division I prospect Derek Taylor.
“I’m really proud of Hudson,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “After one and half years of not playing football, he showed what a tough competitor he is. I’m excited about him and the entire team. He’ll be OK.
“But our offense didn’t do much in the first half and our defense kind of kept us in the game.”
Trailing 6-0, Hilmar went ahead on Azevedo’s 1-yard burst into the end zone with 10:42 remaining in the contest. Hilmar forced Patterson to punt on its ensuing possession and was pinned on its 7-yard line. A conservative handoff to Luis Vargas gained nothing and it appeared the Yellowjackets would be content to play it safe, kick the ball away and rely on their defense.
Playing it safe was not at all the plan.
On second down, Azevedo dropped back and found his 6-foot-5, 210-pound wide receiver downfield, who high-pointed the ball and took off upfield.
“I knew if I kept going, I was going to get ankle-tackled,” said Taylor, who is drawing interest from several Division I programs. “So, I slowed down, stiff-armed the defender, and then it was off to the races.”
That made it 14-6. And because Hilmar held the Tigers scoreless on eight consecutive possessions – getting a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and an interception by Noel Lopez – an eight-point lead felt like enough.
But on Patterson’s next play from scrimmage, Herrera busted free for 49 yards and then Mataele scored from 23 yards out to make it 14-12. The Tigers went for two, but Vargas batted away the pass attempt and Hilmar retained its lead.
Hilmar went three-and-out on its next possession and Patterson scored four plays later to take the lead for good.
“Hey, iron sharpens irons,” said Marques. “Patterson’s a really good football team, they’re not mediocre. And we battled them. That’s a team that’s going to compete for the (Central California Conference) title.
“We’re going to be better next week because of this loss.”
Hilmar won the junior varsity game 37-18, running its winning streak to 35 games.