It’s not often a punter makes the biggest play of the game.
Atwater’s Tony Romo did just that when he uncorked a 57-yard punt that pinned Washington Union down on its own 1-yard-line early in the fourth quarter with the Falcons trailing by one point.
The Atwater defense did its job, forcing the Panthers to punt from their own end zone.
Washington Union punter Diego Alba stepped on the back line of the end zone when he took the snap for a safety, which put the Falcons ahead by one point.
Atwater went on to score the final 22 points of the game as the Falcons improved to 1-1 with a 41-20 win on Saturday night at Falcon Field.
“I practice those punts in practice all the time,” Romo said. “It came down to that 1 yard line. That helped us. It’s a game of inches.”
The Falcons had to overcome a sluggish start as they fumbled three times in the first half, including twice in the red zone.
Washington Union outgained Atwater 247-97 in yards in the first two quarters, but the Falcons still managed to go into intermission with an 8-7 lead after a Vic Tiscareno 50-yard touchdown run a two-point conversion.
“We shot ourselves in the foot early on with fumbles and stumbled drives,” Falcons head coach Bob Valladao said. “That was a lot better Washington Union team than we saw last year.
“We cleaned up some of the mistakes in the second half. I liked the way our guys came together.”
The Falcons' offense came alive in the second half as it marched 70 yards on its opening drive in the third quarter with Tiscareno scoring his second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard run that extended the lead to 16-7.
“We started picking each other up in the second half,” said Tiscareno, who rushed for 74 yards on seven carries. “We weren’t doing that in the first half. We needed to pull together.”
The Panthers (0-1) didn’t go away. The game was much different than the Falcons’ 56-8 win in Easton last year.
Washington Union running back Javin Harrison ran for 179 yards on 24 carries. Panthers quarterback Luis Escobedo put his team in front 20-19 with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes. Escobedo completed 15 of 34 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
However’s Romo’s punt early in the fourth quarter helped turn the game around.
“Every time we say we’re going to punt our offensive guys want to go for it,” Valladao said. "Tony has a big leg and it’s a game of field position. Some of our guys were worried that we were going to hit their punter. I said I wanted to pressure him and he’ll step out.
“Romo was all over the field tonight. He might have had 20 tackles. How many guys kick the ball off and then go make a tackle?”
The Falcons put the game away with two JoJo Ochoa touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. After the slow first half, Atwater gained 256 yards of their 353 yards of offense in the second half.
ATWATER 41, WASHINGTON UNION 20
Washington Union 7 0 13 0 -- 20 Atwater 0 8 11 22 -- 41
W -- Prentice Thomas 66 pass from Luis Escobedo (Julio Montejano kick) Second Quarter
A -- Vic Tiscareno 50 run (Scotty Clements pass from Isaiah Washington)
A -- Tiscareno 10 run (JoJo Ochoa pass from Washington)
A -- Mario Chavez 23 FG
W -- Chance Quintana 10 pass from Escobedo (kick failed)
W -- Raniel Rogers 14 pass from Escobedo (Montejano kick)
A -- Safety (Punter stepped out of end zone)
A -- Ochoa 6 run (Chavez kick)
A -- Ochoa 7 run (Chavez kick)
A -- Nathan Duran 2 run (pass failed)
Records: Washington Union 0-1; Atwater 1-1.
JV -- Atwater won 48-6.