The lights were shining, the bleachers were rocking, the Gilroy
sideline at Garcia-Elder Field was electric and the parking lot on
Princevalle was filled to capacity, with not a spot to be
Gilroy – The lights were shining, the bleachers were rocking, the Gilroy sideline at Garcia-Elder Field was electric and the parking lot on Princevalle was filled to capacity, with not a spot to be found.
It was all further evidence that everybody loves a winner. And that’s all that the Gilroy Mustangs freshmen team has done all season – win.
The Mustangs entered the game a perfect 6-0, having outscored their opponents by an unimaginable 234-0 margin.
But everyone knew that this would be the young Mustangs toughest test to date. The powerhouse Palma Chieftains had boarded their buses in Salinas and made the 40-mile trek north.
Gilroy, however, was lying in wait and by the time the dust had settled the Mustangs had stampeded their way to a 12-7 victory over the Chieftains. It was the first time that the freshmen squad had ever beaten the Palma football team.
But it would be a night full of firsts.
The Mustangs defense had not been scored on all season long. That ended when Palma found the end zone for a touchdown at the end of the first half. It was the first time Gilroy had trailed all season. Now they would have to pull off their first comeback of the year.
And the Cardiac Kids did just that – in the most dramatic of fashions.
With 3:36 left in the third quarter Gilroy found the end zone but a blocked extra point left them trailing the Chieftains 7-6.
That’s when the real excitement began.
The Gilroy crowd rose to its feet, hoping to motivate the young ‘Stangs squad to victory.
The electricity found its way to the sideline and the chants of “Defense, Defense” rose to a crescendo.
And like they have all season, the defense answered the call.
But the Mustangs needed to find the end zone one more time if they were to remain perfect. With 4:32 left in the game Gilroy’s chance at that was dwindling fast.
On the first play of the drive Sean Hale busted 32 yards down to the Palma 27-yard line. But the next play went for no gain and on second down quarterback Jamie Jensen was sacked for a 5 yard loss. But on third down Jensen hit his tight end Jered Schreckengost who carried the ball down to the 21-yard line.
With just 2:36 minutes left on the clock, Gilroy faced a fourth-and-four, had no time outs and needed to convert or face the reality that the Chieftains would take over on downs and potentially run out the clock.
Jensen faded back and found Hale on the far sideline. His lobbed pass was tipped by the defender but Hale managed to reel it in. He then regained his composure and bulldozed his way down the sidelines, scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
“I knew once I caught it that I had the first down but I honestly didn’t think that I was going to make it into the end zone,” Hale admitted. “Not on that play, anyway. I just kept running, fought to stay in bounds and before I knew it I was in.”
On the ensuing kickoff Palma was forced deep and took over on its own 18-yard line. Five plays later, when the Mustangs’ Elijah Harrell intercepted a Palma pass with 58.2 seconds left it looked as if the victory was sealed.
But the Chieftains would mount one last hurrah.
Aided by their three time-outs, Palma took over on downs with 15.6 seconds left in the contest. Their first down hook-and-ladder play went incomplete but they connected for big yardage on second down when he pulled off a halfback option and the Chieftains halfback found an open receiver and delivered a strike down to the Gilroy 24-yard line.
Palma spiked the ball and was left with one chance at the end zone but when the Gilroy defender batted it away at the 6-yard line the celebration was under way.
“That was a monkey off my back like you wouldn’t believe,” head coach Tim Lemos exclaimed. “‘This is the biggest win, without a doubt, of my entire high school experience.”
And it’s a victory that was extra special considering the team found out just hours earlier that they would have to play the game without several key players, two of which were offensive starters, because of disciplinary action taken by the school.
Lemos was quick to stand by the administration for their decision to not allow the students to play.
“They were suspended for the game and I completely back the administration and their judgment on their decision. Had they not taken disciplinary action I would have benched them myself,” Lemos admitted. “I would have benched them next week, however, because losing them at the last minute like that punishes the whole team. But it’s a testament to these kids the way they rallied behind the loss of their teammates.”
What’s the old adage. . . Winner’s never quit because quitters never win.