Terra Nova High's football team has come a long way in a short amount of time.
Just four weeks into the season, the Tigers defense has improved dramatically, question marks about special teams have for the most part been answered, and an offense that although still a bit rough around the edges continues to progress from one week to the next.
Those are some of the measurable improvements that the Tigers have made four weeks into the season.
But the immeasurable qualities the Tigers showed in Friday's 21-3 nonleague victory over Salinas were perhaps even more noteworthy.
In a game in which the Tigers turned the ball over four times in the first half, the team showed maturity, resiliency and composure that were especially impressive for team that graduated all but a handful of starters on both sides of the ball, Terra Nova coach Bill Gray said.
"We rebounded quite nicely and showed a lot of character and a lot of courage," Gray said.
"Earlier in the year things like that would get us down a little bit, but our kids have learned how to deal with adversity and the roller coaster of a football game. We just stayed the course and that's a good sign for a team like us that's dealing with a lot of inexperienced varsity football players.
"These kids are pretty tough."
Gray thinks some of the toughness his players have developed is a function of playing difficult nonleague opponents that he believes prepares his team for the Peninsula Athletic League Bay.
The Tigers are three-time defending league champions, with a 15-1 league record over that period.
"We talk about the process we go through in a lengthy and challenging preseason and the process is working," Gray said.
The Tigers complete the process later this week with what might be the most difficult part.
Terra Nova travels to Sacramento on Friday to play perennial power Inderkum for its last nonleague game ahead of its Oct. 12 league opener against Sacred Heart Prep (the Tigers have a Week 6 bye).
Inderkum is the best team Terra Nova will have faced, Gray said, noting that its speed and athleticism, to go along with the hot Central Valley weather his players aren't used to and a two-hour bus trip each way present unique challenges.
"We're anxious to see how we deal with it," Gray said.
A Terra Nova defense that allowed 40 points the first two games has yielded just 10 in the last two weeks.
Exceptionally strong play from defensive linemen Sam Auelua, Paul Noa, and Devin Rael, and middle linebacker Richard Auelua has been a key factor in the turnaround, Gray said.
"As long as they're playing well, things become simpler for the rest of the defense," Gray said.
Poloists win thriller:
Devin Johnson scored with four seconds left to lead Terra Nova's water polo team to a dramatic 13-12 nonleague victory over Aragon on Saturday.
Tigers goalie Kyle Kehoe, who was among several players out with the flu for part of the week, returned to block six shots including two especially tough five-meter penalty shots.
Joel Crossfield led the Tigers with six goals and Aaron Sturtevant contributed three goals and two assists.
The Aragon game concluded a week in which the Terra Nova went 1-2.
Crossfield and Johnson each scored four goals to lead the Tigers in a 10-7 victory over Hillsdale in a Peninsula Athletic League Ocean opener for both teams on Tuesday.
Terra Nova experienced an 18-8 loss to Sequoia on Thursday in a PAL Ocean game in which they had two starters and their goalie out with the flu.
Bright spot for Alma Heights:
Junior quarterback Joshua Cayetano's performance has been among the bright spots for an Alma Heights Christian program that continues to experience some growing pains.
Cayetano was 11-for-25 passing for 142 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions highlighted by a 66-yard completion to Gabe Bautista in the Eagles' 64-60 nonleague loss to Woodside Priory on Friday. He also rushed for 20 yards.
Junior running back Greg Lim rushed for 95 yards on eight carries.
Jonah Medina and Matthew Tam each had eight tackles to lead the Eagles defensively.