Rivals catching on

Barnstormers running back Derrick Morrison finds a hole in the

Central Coast lost its second regular-season game in three years
and may have found a new rival.
Central Coast lost its second regular-season game in three years and may have found a new rival.

Against a Salinas Spartans team that featured eight former Barnstormers, including Spartans team president and player David Renteria, Central Coast fell 28-21 Saturday at Garcia-Elder Sports Complex in Gilroy.

The Barnstormers trailed by as many as 14 in the second half but made a late push after quarterback Rhett Van De Mark connected with Rigoberto Munoz for a 30-yard touchdown pass. Central Coast then held Salinas to three and out but stalled during its final drive. The clincher came on a harrowing fourth-and-six play at midfield when Van De Mark heaved a 47-yard pass that was just out of reach of tight end Will Lawrence in the end zone.

“It was an emotional battle just like we expected,” said Barnstormers’ coach Greg Garcia. “A lot of their guys were on our team last year, so we know them. You take that and the fact this was such a hard-fought game and that most of the players come from the same areas – there’s definitely going to be a rivalry between these teams.”

For the Barnstormers (1-2), the loss was especially tough considering it came to an expansion team, albeit an undefeated one. Salinas improved to 3-0 on the year with wins, now, over both defending NCAFF finalists.

“It’s going to hurt for a while, no doubt,” Van De Mark said. “That’s a first-year team we lost to. We thought we were the better team but we made too many mistakes and couldn’t finish it at the end. We’re going to be looking out for this game next time.”

Van De Mark completed 10 of 17 passes for 127 yards and an interception. He also tossed two touchdowns, including a 31-yard strike to Greg Walton on Van De Mark’s first throw of the game. He found Walton in one-on-one coverage down the sideline and lofted a fade pass over cornerback Jose Mancias, pushing Central Coast ahead 7-0.

Van De Mark’s throw to Munoz came under intense pressure. Van De Mark escaped the pocket, stepped up and hit Munoz in the back of the end zone with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter.

“We knew they weren’t going away,” said Salinas’ coach Sunil Smith. “Even when we got that two-touchdown lead, I was going up and down the sideline telling guys to keep executing. All it takes is one mistake to get the other team back in it.”

The Barnstormers would agree. They took a 14-13 lead on halfback Derrick Morrison’s 1-yard plunge as time expired in the second quarter, but fell apart quickly in the fourth.

After the Barnstormers failed a fake punt at midfield, Salinas’ David Carriedo cashed in a time-consuming 10-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown blast. The Spartans added a two-point conversion run by quarterback Robert Stefani to go up 21-14, then broke the game open after Central Coast’s Kevin Stewart fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Salinas’ Randy Cervantez recovered at the Barnstormers’ 22-yard line, and Carriedo scored again five plays later – this time on a 1-yard dive.

“They really had us on the ropes after that,” Garcia said. “But the guys responded well, I thought. They flipped the switch and showed a lot of heart.

“I think they’ll bounce back well from this.”

Central Coast made a solid defensive stand following Munoz’s touchdown grab and a botched onside kick. Salinas punted after three plays.

“It was intense,” said Barnstormers’ strong safety David Flores. “We knew we had to step up. The game was on the line. When you come together like that, it makes losing feel that much worse.”

Central Coast dominated most of the first quarter, totaling 94 of its 300 yards in total offense. Morrison and Brandon Lettimore set the tone early with punishing inside runs. Morrison churned out a game-high 93 yards on 19 carries while Lettimore rushed for 46. Linebacker Willie Gamboa set up Van De Mark’s touchdown pass to Walton when he intercepted Stefani’s first throw of the game.

Salinas pulled even after its next drive, though, getting a 6-yard touchdown run by Stefani. The Spartans went ahead 13-7 when Stefani found Scott Konen for a 5-yard score with 5:28 left before the half.

Stefani completed 5 of 8 for 51 yards, Antwione Vaughns carried 17 times for 67 yards, and Carriedo rushed for 39 yards on 11 tries for Salinas. Teammate Jonathan Trafton picked off Van De Mark in the third quarter.

Lawrence hauled in four passes for 56 yards and Walton caught two for 37 yards for Central Coast, which hosts the Soquel-Capitola Sharks at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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