Setback at ‘The Pit’

Rams' wide receiver Brandon Almaguer rides his tackler to the

Gavilan gridmen suffer 33-6 loss to rival Hartnell.
SALINAS – The Hartnell Panthers “were ready to go.” The Gavilan Rams “came out flat.” Hartnell scored seven points within the game’s first three minutes, more than enough to defeat the Rams.

The Panthers used 185 yards and three touchdowns from tailback Wiillie Bongo-Boloweti to defeat Gavilan 33-6, leaving the Panthers and Cabrillo tied at 1-0 atop the five-team Coast Conference.

“I think it was an omen when our bus to the stadium was 10 minutes early and then the players went onto the field 10 mminutes early,” Hartnell coach Larry Souza said of the Panthers. “We had great practices and were ready to go. We were finally healthy. We were pretty pumped up about our first conference game, especially with Gavilan coming off a win.”

Gavilan will take a 1-1 conference mark (3-5 overall) into Saturday night’s home finale against the Monterey Peninsula Lobos (0-2, 0-8).

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Gavilan coach John Lango figuratively about the Rams’ performance Saturday night at the Pit at Salinas High School. We didn’t play well. It was a big step back.”

The Rams can still claim a share of the conference crown with two wins to close out the season, combined with at least one Hartnell loss. The conference is as balanced as ever, although Saturday night’s renewal of the Gavilan-Hartnell rivalry did little to invigorate excitement in future showdowns.

“Our offense didn’t help us any,” said Lango of the 152 yards in total offense, 128 yards below the team’s season average. “We played a little bit of defense.” Gavilan’s pass rush caused three sacks, paced by A.J. Lee, Paul Bianchi and Brian Hernandez. Cameron Shutts delivered several strong hits and finished among the team leaders in tackles, while Moses Aguilar pulled down one interception and returned it seven yards.

The Panthers piled up 451 yards offense while allowing just one turnover. Gavilan coughed up a turnover on its first play from scrimmage, leading to the first touchdown of the evening.

Gavilan kicked off to begin the game, then gave the Panthers in immediate problems with a 10-yard sack of Rudy Garcia. Hartnell punted, but got the football back seconds later when Ajene Palmer’s pass tipped off one Panther defender and into the hands of Hartnell’s Nick Trebino for an interception and 24-yard return. A Gavilan 15-yard personal foul penalty tacked onto the return set the Panthers up at Gavilan’s 26. Joey Robles raced to the Ram eight on first down before Bongo-Boloweti zigged and zagged over left guard for the touchdown with 12:42 left in the first quarter.

Gavilan finished with eight first downs for the game, one coming on a 44-yard pass from Palmer to Sam Tolutau that drove the Rams to the Hartnell 33. The Rams could not add a second first down, however, and Brandon Almaguer tried a 44-yard field goal. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced back, leaving the Panthers up 7-0 with 9:15 to go in the quarter.

Hartnell scored two touchdowns and gambled and lost on another fourth-and-one play near the Gavilan goalline to take a 20-0 lead on its next three possessions.

The Panthers covered 73 yards to paydirt after the Ram field goal try. Bongo-Boloweti churned 33 yards to the Ram 36 on his longest run of the decisive first half. The Panthers gambled with a fourth-and-goal call from the Gavilan three, Garcia making it pay off with a touchdown pass to wide-out Doug McCollough. The Panther PAT try by Danny Torres was blocked, leaving the hosts up 13-0.

Palmer was victimized by another interception on the first play from scrimmage following the kick-off, Frankie Berlanga’s diving catch of a Palmer long heave setting the Panthers up at the Hartnell 37. Hartnell moved to within one yard of the goalline before a fourth-down pass from Garcia missed its mark. The Rams could not earn a first down, however, and Almaguer’s punt left the Panthers in business at the Ram 39. Eight plays later, Bongo-Boloweti stepped through a hole at right tackle for the one-yard touchdown run.

The Rams responded with a touchdown drive of 56 yards. Palmer escaped the Panther pass rush and took off for a 25-yard run to Panther territory. Pouono Thomas earned a first down with a 10-yard sweep. Palmer completed the drive with a quick-step option around the right flank for a four-yard TD run, leaving the visitors down 20-6.

Garcia went 4-for-4 as the Panthers added a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the half. Garcia lofted a 19-yard scoring strike to Fernando Ortiz behind the Ram secondary.

The Aguilar interception with 2:39 left in the third quarter was followed by a Gavilan fumble on the next play. The Panthers completed the night’s scoring with a 54-yard march that ended with a Bongo-Boloweti one-yard plunge.

Hartnell finished with 312 yards on the ground in 60 rushes along with 139 yards passing (10-for-20). Gavilan’s ground game produced 91 yards on 23 rushes. Palmer connected on three of 12 pass atempts for 37 yards. Russell Schafer came off the bench to quarterback several series, hitting his first three passes for 24 yards. Almaguer had one eight-yard reception while tight end Will Lawrence was shut out by the Panther defense. Hartnell led 26-8 in first downs.

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