Several years have gone by since a Coast Conference classic
Hartnell-Gavilan football game has been played.
GILROY – Several years have gone by since a Coast Conference classic Hartnell-Gavilan football game has been played. By the sound of both coaches, Saturday night’s showdown in the Pit in Salinas could recharge the decades-old rivalry, not to mention decide the conference championship.
“We’re all very competitive, we’re very close – all of us,” said Hartnell coach Larry Souza of the five-team Coast Conference. While the Panthers drew a bye last week and take a 2-4 non-conference mark into the 7 p.m. game on the new turf in the Salinas High School stadium, Gavilan eked out a 21-14 win over DeAnza on a last-minute touchdown pass and Cabrillo edged Monterey Peninsula College 47-42.
“Everybody has all the tools necessary to score,” Souza said of the next four weeks of conference play. “It’s going to come down to which team can make the plays on defense. I don’t know if any team can go through the conference schedule undefeated.”
Hartnell eased past the Rams 58-21 last November on the Live Oak High field. Panther running back Willy Bong-Boloweti capped a strong frshman season with 201 yards rushing in three quarters of play against the Rams. Souza has Bong-Boloweti back for a second season, although a knee tendon injury kept the scatback off the field until an 18-for-133 yards effort in a 37-35 win over Diablo Valley College two weeks ago.
“Every team has a few key players,” said Souza. Along with Bong-Boloweti, Souza lauded the play of sophomore Rudy Garcia. “He was a State Player of the Week in the Diablo Valley game, passing for 310 yards on 16-for-24 with two touchdowns.”
Anchoring the Panther defense are free safety Tyler Larick and linebacker Victor Marquez, both sophomores.
“They come at you,” Souza, in his third year at the Hartnell helm, said of the Gavilan defense. “We’ll have to watch wide receiver (Brandon) Almaguer trying for the big plays for the Gavilan offense.
“We’ve finally started improving,” Souza said of his club. “We had several injuries early in the year, but we are ready now for the conference games.”
John Lango, also in his third year as head coach, likened Hartnell to DeAnza as an opponent. “Hartnell has a very strong running back. Hartnell does very well running the fly offense. Our defense has continued to get better. The coaches and players know that no team is going to score 50 points and blow the other team away in this conference. Every conference game should be a battle.”
While Hartnell turns to Bongo-Boloweti for ground yardage, the Rams have welcomed the return to form of sophomore tailback Danny Gallo.
“He helped us a ton (against the Dons),” said Lango. “His return gives us a little more speed on offense.” Gallo has 302 yards and two touchdowns with 64 rushes this season.
Hartnell’s Garcia has covered 865 yards with a 53-for-116 passing performance this fall. Ajene Palmer, back as starter for the Rams, has passed for 655 yards and four TDs in a 35-for-96 campaign.
Almaguer owns 25 pass receptions for 434 yards and four scores. Hartnell’s wide-out Joey Robles has a team-best 16 grabs for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Ram tight end Will Lawrence is next in the conference totals with 20 catches for 243 yards and two TDs.
Gavilan is last among the five conference squads in total offense (281.4 yards average), although Hartnell is last in total defense (allowing 476.3 per game).
Gavilan is 3-4 for the season, Hartnell 2-4. The Panthers went 0-5 in the 2001 non-conference play, then went 4-1 in the conference.