Capuchino hit the ground running to start the delayed 2020-21 season.

Despite starting the abbreviated varsity slate six months late; despite the stops and starts to practice schedules; despite not knowing for a time if there would even be a season; the Mustangs proved up to the test of hitting their stride from opening kickoff to roll to a 35-14 victory Friday night at San Mateo in the Peninsula Athletic League opener.

Isaac Nishimoto, a junior playing in his first varsity game, opened the night by taking the opening kick return 84 yards for a touchdown. Yes, it was his first varsity play ever.

“It was my first play ever on varsity and I was just focusing on doing my job,” Nishimoto said. “I was just thinking, ‘Just don’t drop it, don’t drop it.’ Luckily it bounced right in front of me, I picked it up, I saw No. 22 Justin Verna just lay a guy out for me, (creating) just a huge lane, I just used my speed to just break away.”

Nishimoto didn’t stop there. The junior two-way player split time out of the backfield with Verna through the first half, then took over after halftime en route to rushing for 169 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.

The Mustangs racked up 421 yards of total offense, including 334 rushing yards. Verna totaled 11 carries for 75 yards and two touchdown but departed early in the second half.

“Honestly, I was supposed to be playing more defense,” Nishimoto said. “But guys go down, stuff happens, next man has to come up.”

From the outset, Cap’s sharp, play-action looks had San Mateo’s defense crossed up. The two teams traded touchdowns inside the opening two minutes — three plays after the Mustangs’ opening score, Mateo senior Marco Martin broke a 31-yard scoring run to tie it 7-7 — but after that it was all Capuchino.

“We wanted to make sure our guys know we’re going to use misdirection,” Capuchino head coach Jay Oca said. “We only have 30 guys, so we want to pound guys, we want to run up the gut and things like that, but misdirection helps us as well.”

The Mustangs responded with an efficient seven-play, 71-yard scoring drive. Nishimoto ripped off back-to-back runs of 13 and 18 yards to advance into the red zone. Verna then hit a hole through the right side and danced into the end zone for an 8-yard score, giving the Mustangs the lead for good at 14-7 midway through the first quarter.

A quick three-and-out by the Cap defense — highlighted by junior Nicolas Caruso’s big second-down stop, a 6-yard loss on a sweep play — put Nishimoto and company right back in the driver’s seat. Seven plays later, the Mustangs slammed into the end zone on a 1-yard blast from Verna, making it 21-7 with 1:08 remaining in the opening quarter.

“The play-action, it was readable,” San Mateo senior linebacker Angel Cruz said. “Just, some of our players, they just messed up on our assignments. Honestly, it was just all us — miscommunication, people getting hurt — that’s pretty much it.”

San Mateo looked like most team’s were expected to look after a six-month delay. Cruz, who was playing in his second consecutive varsity opener, said the Bearcats were probably about half as prepared for the 2019 opener a season ago.

“Honestly, COVID played a big role because we were all up and down, mostly downs, because we felt like we’d never have a chance to play,” Cruz said. “This game tested us, and it did. … We’ve just got to pick it up next week.”

San Mateo managed just three first downs in the first half, to Cap’s 11. Then, after a scoreless second half, the Mustangs revved back up near the end of the third quarter.

The Bearcats got a boost when their defense produced a three-and-out to start the second half. But two plays later, San Mateo fumbled away possession at the Cap 46-yard line. And the Mustangs went on the march, using 11 plays to find the end zone.

The big play of the drive came on third-and-6 from the San Mateo 27, when Cap quarterback Devin Meyer hit Lucas Lyles for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter, Meyer lofted a pass up to the front corner of the end zone for Caruso, who made a fine leaping catch to outduel a defender for the score.

It took San Mateo all of five plays to fumble the ball away again. And with 10:37 remaining in the game, Nishimoto capped a drive that was nearly all him with a 2-yard scoring run. He previously had gains of 36, 2 and 16 yards on the possession.

“I want to give big props to my coaching staff for helping the preparation,” Oca said. “They’re making sure our guys are on point every single day, we’re on a schedule every single day, when we’re allowed to practice. We utilize every second, every moment that we have. And we’re super focused.”

Cap place kicker Amber Bussani enjoyed a superb varsity debut as well. Bussani, with her long braided ponytails hanging out of the back of her helmet, converted 5 for 5 on point after tries. It is the senior’s fourth year with the Capuchino football program, but her first as a player. The soccer standout spent the past three years serving as the football team manager.

“I’ve always known she played soccer, so I said, ‘Amber, come out,’” Oca said. “She’s been a part of the program for the past three years as a team manager, and I just said, ‘We need you out here. What do you have to lose?’ And her family was just so into it. And the support we got from them, it just shows tonight, and it’s just freakin’ awesome.”

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