Moral victory

Mustang gridmen battle with Palma in 28-13 loss
GILROY – Senior receiver Greg Lucio hauled in his first two varsity touchdowns Friday night – but, despite the Mustang gridmen’s most respectable showing in weeks, Gilroy fell to private-power Palma, 28-13.

“A little slant and a nice little trick play. It was great. My first two varsity touchdowns,” said Lucio, who like most of his teammates left the Salinas Rodeo Grounds with his head held high. “Against Palma, we’ll take this any day. We didn’t get shut out. We put points on the board going into North Salinas. It gives us some confidence. We’re up right now. We’re up.”

Up next, the Mustangs return to the Rodeo Grounds for a Friday night TCAL match-up against North Salinas at 7:30 p.m.

“Our psyche’s been kind of beaten on a little bit in the past four or five games. So even though we don’t get a win, we say, ‘hey, we battled with one of the best teams in the Bay Area,'” said head coach Darren Yafai, whose squad’s record dips to 1-7. “I felt we gave a real respectable effort tonight.

“I thought our offensive line showed a lot of improvement. I thought our defense played real good, except for giving up three plays. We didn’t let them pound the ball down our throat all game long.”

Trailing 21-0 in the final minute of the second quarter, the seemingly-somber Mustangs got a huge boost – completing a 30-yard, hook-and-ladder play that put the ball on the Palma five-yard line. On fourth-and-10 from the 35, senior quarterback John Kirkish hit Lucio on the sideline at about the 20-yard line. Lucio immediately turned and pitched the ball back to senior tailback J.L. Mangono – who ran down to the five-yard line.

On the next play from scrimmage, Kirkish found Lucio on a quick slant for a five-yard touchdown to break the first-half shutout and give the Mustangs a charge.

“The one against Hollister was nice, but it didn’t pay off for us. This one put the ball down on the five-yard line with about 25 seconds left to go,” said Yafai of the hook-and-ladder. “We’re up on the ball quick and we run a slant for the touchdown and hey we go into halftime it’s 21-7 with momentum swaying a little bit our way.”

Following a scoreless third quarter, Palma (7-1) extended its lead midway through the final quarter on a nine-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Luke Lippencott, his third on the night.

“If you think about it, defensively, we didn’t give up a bunch of long drives. We gave up three big plays defensively. We forced a lot of punts,” said Yafai, proud of his defense. “For us not having depth and being depleted by injuries and stuff like that, we were really proud of the way we played.”

There was even more to be proud of in the fourth quarter as Lucio found the back of the end zone for his second career touchdown on a half-back option pass. With junior Matt Edwards in at quarterback and Kirkish at the Z-back, Edwards handed the ball to Kirkish on a sweep. Kirkish ran right and when he looked up, Lucio was all alone for a 23-yard TD strike.

“I’m happy for him (Lucio) because he’s been a two-year varsity player for us,” said Yafai of his senior receiver. “For him, he got two touchdowns in one game and those were his first two touchdowns of his varsity career. So I’m real happy for him. We’re real proud of him and happy for him. He can say, ‘I got two touchdown catches against Palma my senior year.'”

Lucio finished with four grabs (excluding the hook-and-ladder which gives the yardage to Mangono) for 44 yards and two touchdowns. Kirkish completed 11-of-22 for 113 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“This is probably our best effort since Santa Cruz (in week-two),” Yafai said. “Once again, we’re disappointed that we didn’t win a football game. We go into every game preparing to win a football game. We go in with the expectations that we have a shot at winning. So, yeah, we’re disappointed we didn’t win, but we’re definitely proud of our kids for the effort we gave tonight.”

Mangono ran for 91 yards on 15 carries. Senior fullback Tony Beal made four catches for 27 yards. Junior running back Jason Ahumada rushed for 33 yards on four carries along with one reception for 10 yards.

“I thought we got a much better effort from our offensive line today,” Yafai said. “We struggled a lot with pass protection tonight, but at least we ran blocked. We opened some holes. It wasn’t real consistent. It was off-and-on, off-and-on.”

And for the first time this season, the Mustangs did not fumble the ball – only turning the ball over once on a Kirkish interception early in the first quarter.

“If we don’t turn the ball over, we have a chance and that’s the key to football,” Yafai said. “We go seven turnovers last week and we get whooped. Today, we go no (one, really) turnovers and we battle.”

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