FOOTBALL: Slow start hampers Mustangs in 35-16 loss to North Salinas

Running back Christian Salazar stiff arms Chris Abella during

SALINAS – Two fourth-quarter Gilroy High touchdowns placed a
shinier exterior on a 35-16 loss to North Salinas in the Tri-County
Athletic League opener for both teams in Salinas on Saturday.
SALINAS – Sometimes the quickest way to learn is in defeat. And with two fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns in a 35-16 loss to North Salinas in the Tri-County Athletic League opener Saturday night, the Gilroy High football team discovered an entirely new culture of offense.

The times they are changing – perhaps.

The aerial attack that has become the staple of the Gilroy High offense over the past three seasons may actually be a thing of the past.

“We are more successful right now when we run the ball,” head coach Greg Garcia said. “Now, we have to get better at establishing the run.”

The Mustangs had minimal success through the air and turned to the run game for relief. GHS churned out 218 yards on the ground, 160 of those coming in the second half.

The Mustangs a run-first offense? That’s just fine to senior Eric Vegas.

“I hope so, I’d like to run a lot, move the ball more,” said Vegas, who lined up in the wildcat as part of the Mustangs’ jumbo run package on a dozen or so snaps during the game. “We have a lot of power on the team; take it slow, yard by yard.”

Down 35-0, Vegas broke off a 63-yard scoring jaunt. Vegas took the direct snap and snaked his way through the first level of the Vikings’ defense then left a trailing defensive back in his wake with a shifty move across the 20-yard line and coasted the rest of the way into the end zone.

It was the Mustangs’ (1-3 overall, 0-1 TCAL) longest play from scrimmage in the game. Vegas then bulled in for the 2-point conversion.

Julius Travis scored from 20 yards out on the Mustangs ensuing series of downs, taking the end-around off left tackle and coasting untouched to the pylon. Vegas wrestled his way across the goal line for another successful 2-point play.

Travis kick started the drive four plays earlier on a similar run, taking the hand off and feeling his way around left tackle. A nifty cutback gave Travis visions of green in front of him as he sauntered 42 yards up the sideline. The scoring script was also helped by a pair of eight-yard runs from quarterback Niko Fortino and Vegas.

Before the enlightenment, the Mustangs again fell victim to a sluggish start and were faced with an uphill climb.

The Vikings (1-3 overall, 1-0 TCAL) tagged the Mustangs for 14 first-quarter points, capitalizing on prime field position on its first two possessions of the ball game.

Marcos Mendoza caught the corner for an 11-yard touchdown run with five minutes and change remaining in the opening period.

After a Mustangs three-and-out, the Vikings took over in Gilroy territory and assembled a three-play, 44-yard drive, culminating with a 12-yard scoring jaunt by DJ Zarate.

Mendoza delivered the dagger as time expired in the second quarter, exploding up the middle on a draw play, shifting left and sprinting to the end zone for a 54-yard score to put the Vikings up 21-0 at the break.

The Vikings scored twice more in the third quarter, including a pick-six by corner back Ryan Uto to put the game out of reach heading into the final period.

It’s gut-check time for Gilroy High.

A 35-16 by no stretch of the imagination breaks the Mustangs’ season, but it’s now on the players’ shoulders to decide what to make of it.

“I’m sick of losing, I just want to win, try my best and hardest every time,” Vegas said.

“We need to step it up in practice. People have to stop taking it as a joke. This is my senior year and I’m trying to win. I’m not trying to lose. I’ll work my hardest and try to push people to work their hardest.”

The demeanor of the players after Saturday’s defeat appeared different. The frustrations weren’t harnessed negatively, but expressed positively in a turn-the-corner manner.

“The kids are tired of it,” Garcia said. “We will see if that translates and everyone buys in.”

Next up for the GHS is a much improved 2-2 Alvarez team, who had a bye last week.

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