Gilroy jumped out to the early 14-0 lead but Palma rallied with
a 35-3 spurt for the victory
Gilroy – It wasn’t a win, but it was the next best thing.
On Senior Night, Gilroy fell to powerhouse Palma 35-17 in a game where the Mustangs fought hard, but were ultimately overpowered by a very talented Chieftain roster.
“Sometimes talent takes over,” said Gilroy head coach Darren Yafai. “Win or lose, I told (my team) I want to make sure we play hard all game long. I thought we achieved that.”
With the loss, Gilroy drops to 3-4 overall and 0-2 in Tri-County Athletic League play. Palma now sits at 6-1 overall and 2-0 in league, tied with San Benito for first place.
In the early goings of the game, those wondering if Gilroy would rebound after last week’s heartbreaking Prune Bowl loss got their answer in the form of a 14-0 Gilroy lead after one quarter.
In Palma’s first offensive play of the game, Gilroy defensive back Sean Velasquez dove and picked off a pass down the left sideline from Palma quarterback Jordan Casas. The ‘Stangs took over at their own 18 and two plays later, Justin Sweeney (196 yards on 23 carries, TD) broke free up the middle and down the right sideline for a 78-yard touchdown run. Neil Martin’s extra point gave Gilroy the 7-0 lead at the 9:24 mark.
On Palma’s next drive, the Gilroy secondary struck again. This time, it was Marc Vegas who intercepted another Casas pass that was tipped in mid-air. The ‘Stangs took over at their own 42 and eventually drove the ball down to Palma’s 30-yard line. From there, quarterback Chris Velasco, making his first varsity start, hit tight end Steven Quistian (2 receptions, 44 yards, TD) up the middle between two Palma defenders. Quistian took it into the end zone and Martin’s kick was good to put Gilroy up 14-0 with 49 seconds to play in the quarter. Velasco completed 7-of-15 passes for 95 yards and one touchdown.
But like most good teams, Palma didn’t stay down for long. In the second quarter, the speedy Casas broke for 36 yards before being stopped at the 5-yard line. On the next play, Andrew Reyes punched it in for the Chieftains’ first touchdown. Kyle Harrigan, a Gilroy product, hit the extra point to make it 14-7 Gilroy.
Gilroy came up short on its last scoring opportunity before the half. With 1:25 until the break, Martin’s 38-yard field goal attempt flew just wide left.
Palma, on the other hand, made the most of the final minute. Six-foot-four Palma receiver Orlando Johnson made a spectacular catch down the right sideline with about 30 seconds left. Under tight pressure from a Gilroy player, Johnson went up into the air and tipped the 29-yard pass from Casas with one hand to himself for the catch. That put Palma at the Gilroy 15. Casas found Johnson again in the left side of the end zone, this time under tight pressure from the inches-shorter Sweeney.
“They are an extremely talented football team with a bunch of playmakers,” Yafai said. “There’s nothing you can do when your best athlete is covering a 6-foot-4 kid that can jump over his head.”
Despite the fact that Palma had made a comeback, Gilroy senior lineman Bobby Best said the team felt good at the half.
“When we had the lead, I was ecstatic,” he said. “Then they tied it up, but I thought ‘We can still win the game.'”
Gilroy’s defense mirrored that attitude in the opening minutes of the second half. After the Chieftains’ Reyes returned the opening kickoff 84 yards to the Gilroy 3-yard line, the Mustang defensive line made four huge stops in the red zone and forced Palma to turn the ball over.
“I was amazed by the defense, that we actually shut them down and held them at the goal line because we haven’t been able to do that all season,” Best said.
But that excitement would be short-lived for Gilroy. On the first play of the takeover, the Mustangs fumbled the ball and Palma’s Jeff Davis returned it four yards for the touchdown. That put Palma ahead 21-14.
“That play was a back-breaker,” Yafai said.
Gilroy’s Martin nailed a 31-yard field goal with 4:49 to cut Palma’s lead to 28-17, but by then, the Chieftains’ momentum was already rolling. Before the close of the third quarter, Palma scored its last two touchdowns on a 12- and 7-yard runs by from Matt Perkins.
With the toughest part of its TCAL schedule out of the way, Yafai is optimistic that a run at the playoffs is still possible. The Mustangs host North Salinas as their Homecoming opponent next week before traveling to Salinas and Live Oak for the last two league games.
Said Yafai, “We’re going to do whatever we can to get a win next week and get another two wins and try to make the playoffs.”
Palma Chieftains vs. Gilroy Mustangs
• PLAY OF THE GAME – Goal line stands are crucial, yet hard to come by. But Gilroy’s defense did just that at a key point in the third quarter with the game tied at 14. After Palma returned a kickoff 84 yards to the Gilroy 3-yard line, the Mustang defense denied the Chieftains what seemed like would be an easy score. Gilroy took over on offense at their own 1-yard line. Unfortunately, Gilroy’s high would turn into a low a moment later when the ball was fumbled on the first carry of the series and Palma’s Jeff Davis recovered it for the go-ahead touchdown.
• PLAYER OF THE GAME – Chris Velasco, Sr. QB
Making his first start of the season at quarterback in a league game, not to mention against a team like Palma, Velasco had a solid game. The senior, who had seen very limited time on the field up to Friday, completed a respectable 8-of-16 passes for 97 yards, throwing with accuracy for one touchdown and no interceptions against a good Palma defense.
• STAT OF THE GAME – On his third carry of the game, a 78-yard touchdown run, Justin Sweeney crossed the 1,000 -yard rushing mark for the season. The senior’s yardage total now stands at 1,149. With three regular season games left, Sweeney is 844 yards away from his rushing total last year: 1,993.
Palma 35, Gilroy 17
Gilroy 14 0 3 0 17
Palma 0 14 21 0 35
GIL (3-4, 0-2), P (6-1, 2-0)
GIL – 9:24, Sweeney 78-yard run (Martin kick), GIL 7-0
GIL – :48, Quistian 30-yard pass from Velasco (Martin kick), GIL 14-0
PAL – 10:43, Reyes 5-yard run (Harrigan kick), GIL 14-7
PAL – :22.4, Johnson 15-yard pass from Casas (Harrigan kick), Tied 14-14
PAL – 10:02, Davis 4-yard fumble recovery (Harrigan kick), PAL 21-14
GIL – 4:49, Martin 31-yard field goal, PAL 21-17
PAL – 3:39, Perkins 12-yard run (Harrigan kick), PAL 28-17
PAL – :05.3, Perkins 7-yard run (Harrigan kick), PAL 35-17
Gilroy Total Offense: 363 yards
Passing: 97 yds, Rushing 266 yds
Chris Velasco: 8-for-16, 97 yards, TD
Justin Sweeney: 23 – 196 yards, TD
Paul Gonzales: 3 – 28 yards
Chris Velasco: 6 – 26 yards
Stefon McCrimon: 8 – 13 yards
Manny Guerrero: 1 – 3 yards
Steven Quistian: 2 – 44 yards, TD
Paul Gonzales: 2 – 25 yards
Taylor Micali: 1 – 21 yards
Marshad Johnson: 1 -r 5 yards
Justin Sweeney: 2 – 2 yards
Neil Martin, 1-2 FG (31 yards), PAT’s 2-2
Sean Velasquez: INT
Mark Vegas: INT