Cardiac Kids

Gilroy’s Justin Sweeney (1) makes a cut against a Salinas Cowboy


The unified and spirited chant of the Gilroy players on the
sidelines during a crucial defensive stand in the final minutes
against Salinas Friday night at The Pit said it all.
Salinas – “DE-FENSE, DE-FENSE!”

The unified and spirited chant of the Gilroy players on the sidelines during a crucial defensive stand in the final minutes against Salinas Friday night at The Pit said it all.

After trailing 17-7 at the half, the Mustangs shut out Salinas in the second half and scored 17 unanswered points to defeat the Cowboys 24-19 on their homecoming.

“Write this down. Who’s the worst defense now!” shouted linebacker Taylor Micali as teammates yelled in celebration around him after the win.

After a dissatisfying first half, Gilroy head coach Darren Yafai said he “lit into” his squad at halftime like he hasn’t done in years. The reaction he got in the second half was exactly what he wanted.

“We played about as good a half of football as you can play,” Yafai said.

In the second half, the Gilroy defense came up with big play after big play, rendering Salinas’ offense ineffective. So it was only appropriate that a huge defensive play would seal Gilroy’s win.

Gilroy held a 24-17 lead with Salinas at the Mustang 25 with just over a minute and a half to play. The Cowboys needed a big play and went for one, running a reverse sweep to free up Manny Martinez for a long pass down the sideline for a touchdown. But Gilroy cornerback Jay Raven was in the end zone and intercepted Martinez’s desperation toss.

“He sprinted back and tossed the ball. It went up for grabs,” said Raven, who injured his right foot on the play when he landed. “It came right to me, but I aggressively grabbed it.”

Gilroy took over at the 20 and ran the clock down. To prevent Salinas from taking over on downs with any time left, Gilroy quarterback Chris Velasco sprinted away from the Cowboy defense back into the Mustangs own end zone for the safety, which made the final score 24-19.

The win puts Gilroy at 5-4 overall and 2-2 in the TCAL. A win at Live Oak next week will guarantee Gilroy a trip to the playoffs. Salinas, whom Gilroy had beaten once in the past five years, dropped to 5-3-1, 2-2 in league.

Friday night saw the return of Justin Sweeney, who didn’t play against North Salinas because of injury. The senior tailback didn’t disappoint, scoring three touchdowns and made big plays at cornerback. Sweeney finished with 76 yards on 16 carries and three receptions for 36 yards.

Offensively, Gilroy got off to a slow start in the first half. Salinas’ trademark blitzing attack forced Gilroy to turn the ball over on downs in the first drive. Salinas’ Tanner Horvath sacked Mustang quarterback Chris Velasco for a 12-yard loss. Salinas took over at the Gilroy 37.

Salinas capitalized on that turnover and scored with 4:39 left in the first quarter when Salinas quarterback Skyler Crawford snuck into the end zone on a 7 yard run. Chris Pinto converted the PAT to make it 7-0 Salinas.

Gilroy encountered more problems offensively on the ensuing drive when Velasco took a hit to the nose as he was taken out of bounds on a 7 yard run. The senior was bleeding profusely and was forced to leave the game.

After a Gilroy defensive stop, Velasco (8-of-15, 84 yards, 2 INT) returned. Gilroy got down to the Salinas 34-yard line and on the next play, Velasco handed off to fellow quarterback Nick Tovar on a trick play. Tovar ran outside and launched a 34-yard pass to an airborne Sweeney in the end zone for Gilroy’s first touchdown. Neil Martin’s extra point evened the score at 7-7.

But Salinas would come back.

With 3:29 left in the half, kicker Chris Pinto made a 37-yard field goal to put the Cowboys up 10-7. On the first play after the kickoff return, Velasco threw an interception and Salinas took over at the 31-yard line With under a minute to go, Kalept Nau topped off a 31-yard Salinas drive with a 1 yard TD run. Pinto’s extra point made it 17-7 Salinas.

Then in the second half, it was a whole new Gilroy team.

“(Coach) Yafai, rather than babying us, came in (at halftime) and said we had to pull ourselves out of this hole,” said lineman Bobby Best, who had two sacks.

And they did.

With 7:43 in the third quarter, Martin capped off a Gilroy series, during which Velasco completed four passes, with a 37-yard field goal to make it 17-10 Salinas.

Velasco threw an interception in the third quarter, but the Mustang defense prevented the Cowboys from capitalizing.

Gilroy tied it up at 17 in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter when Sweeney scored on a 9 yard run and Martin hit the PAT. Again, the Gilroy defense forced a three-and-out situation on the Cowboys.

A pop-up 7 yard punt from Pinto gave Gilroy the ball at the Salinas 23-yard line. It took two Sweeney runs, one for five and one for 18 into the end zone for the Mustangs to take its first lead of the game 24-17 with 8:58 left. That took the game into the decisive final minutes.

Yafai credited this week’s turnaround to a week of focused practice.

“Our guys had a really good week of practice,” he said. “Any sort of malfunctions that we had in previous weeks were put aside.”

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