FOOTBALL: Balers top Mustangs in thrilling Prune Bowl, 34-32

Mustang Eric Vegas plows through the Balers defense during the

In a cruel twist of fate, a blocked punt by San Benito’s Enrique
Ramos floated down from the crisp night sky and into the waiting
arms of Marcos Silva for the easiest touchdown of his prep career
with 2:14 left to play in the 54th annual Prune Bowl, propelling
the Balers past Gilroy 34-32 in a rivalry showdown for the ages
Friday night in Gilroy.
And in a flash, the trophy was gone.

In a cruel twist of fate, a blocked punt by San Benito’s Enrique Ramos floated down from the crisp night sky and into the waiting arms of Marcos Silva for the easiest touchdown of his prep career with 2:14 left to play in the 54th annual Prune Bowl, propelling the Balers past Gilroy 34-32 in a rivalry showdown for the ages Friday night in Gilroy.

A mere 30 seconds earlier, the Mustangs looked destined for their fourth straight victory in the heated matchup after Jourdan Soares batted away a fourth-down pass in the end zone, for the moment preserving a GHS 32-27 advantage.

But an ineffective three-and-out by the Mustangs, which netted a minus-6 yards and used just 28 seconds off the game clock, left them facing a fourth-and-16 from their own 4-yard line, setting up the Balers’ game-winning sequence.

“We talked about it as coaches, we saw what they were doing and we still wanted to take advantage of it,” head coach Greg Garcia said of the play calls late in the game. “We wanted to keep them back on their heels. We had our answers for what they were doing defensively but got caught. You play with fire, you’re going to get burned.”

After the go-ahead score, the Mustangs still had two-plus minutes to travel 80 yards.

However, the drive fell flat and cornerback Matt Vallejo intercepted Niko Fortino’s desperation pass on fourth down at midfield. Four kneel downs ensued and the Balers officially snapped the three-game losing streak and swarmed the field, hoisting the coveted VFW Memorial Trophy.

For 46 minutes nearly everything went right. The Mustangs could feel the trophy in their hands and the sweet, symbolic meaning a triumph would’ve held for a team that has endured a multitude of frustrations, injuries and bitter defeats in 2010.

There is something about a team on the verge of folding which finds a way to emerge from the depths of disappointment in the form of the squad they wanted to be from Day 1. The Mustangs put forth their most inspired football of the season with players leaving the field red paint dented into their helmets and scuffed into their jerseys.

“It fell together just as we wanted,” Garcia said. “There have been those small morale victories along the way. And as our numbers are lower the kids started fighting harder and knew that it was time to dig deep. They are leading each other. Our kids really wanted it.”

As with all games of this magnitude, everything that occurs has an impact. The Mustangs were flagged 14 times for negative 118 yards and despite putting up gaudy offensive numbers (569 total yards in the game), three drives stalled at or near the red zone, including instances where the Mustangs had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line and 9-yard line.

With out the services of a place kicker, the Mustangs were forced to attempt 2-point conversions all night, successful on two of five attempts, ultimately leaving at least a possible three points on the field.

“Three extra points and maybe a field goal and (San Benito) don’t win that trophy,” Garcia said.

A motivated Mustangs bunch exploded out of the gates, taking a 14-0 first-quarter lead courtesy of big-time plays through the air.

“They came out blazing,” San Benito head coach Chris Cameron said.

Fortino and Soares hooked up on a 66-yard pass and catch at the 7:21 mark of the opening quarter. Soares turned a 15-yard hitch into the big gainer, dashing 45-yards to paydirt after making the grab.

“They were really, really, really fast,” said San Benito corner Jacob Martin. “Even when we cheated with a free safety over the top, they could still run.”

Fortino then hit Julius Travis in stride for a 33-yard score on the Mustangs’ next offensive possession. This time the 2-point attempt was good and the Mustangs led 14-0.

“We came out hot. We were fired up all week for the Prune Bowl,” Travis said. “We fought the whole game, that’s all we can do.”

The Balers sleeping-giant of a rushing attack awoke late in the first quarter as James Sanchez took an option pitch and raced 79 yards down the right sideline to cut into the deficit 14-7. Quarterback Michael Bocksnick, one of two signal callers the Balers utilize, cashed in a 4-yard score four minutes into the second quarter, however, the point after attempt failed leaving the contest at 14-13.

GHS responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive, culminating with a Fortino-to-Brent Newton 15-yard strike and a 20-13 lead four minutes before the break.

The Balers capitalized on a costly interception with 32 ticks to go before halftime, sculpting the turnover into a game-tying touchdown on a Cody Hendricks plunge across the goal line from 1-yard out.

Neither team added points on the board in the third quarter, leaving the door open for a thrilling final 12 minutes.

Gilroy grabbed a 26-20 lead with 9:39 to play with Soares putting a pretty double move on the corner, faking slant and fading back pylon for a 19-yard touchdown. Soares also hit Travis (10 catches, 158 yards) on an option pass on the drive good for 39 yards. The junior finished the game with an eye-popping 260 yards on nine catches, including three scores.

“This was really the first week we had all our starters in,” Soares said. “We spread the field and they didn’t really know what to do.”

San Benito jumped in front soon after, though, embarking on a brief three-play, 56-yard trip with Bocksnick breaking through the Mustangs’ line for a 52-yard dash. The quarterback appeared to be stopped for a short gain but shrugged off a pair of arm tackles and put the Balers up 27-26 with 8:13 to play.

The whirlwind of offense continued and Soares was on the receiving end of a Fortino pass for 55 yards and a GHS 32-27 lead with 7:07 on the clock, where the count stood before the fateful blocked punt.

Fortino had his best outing of the season, completing 27-of-54, 465 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Mustangs (1-8 overall, 0-6 TCAL), who have set aside the final two games of the season as their playoffs, have one big game remaining next week against crosstown foe Christopher.

“Next week we have to bring the same intensity,” Garcia said. “The kids are feeding on a lot of anger and that’s a dangerous animal.”

The Balers (6-3 overall, 4-1 league) will play for a share of the Tri-County Athletic League title against Palma.

TEAM                        1            2            3            4            F

SANB                        7            13            0            14            34

GILR                        14            6            0            12            32

 

SCORING SUMMARY

First Quarter

PASS (7:21) — GILR, Niko Fortino to Jourdan Soares, 66-yard touchdown, two-point conversion is no good; 6-0, GILR.

PASS (3:30) — GILR, Niko Fortino to Julius Travis, 33-yard touchdown, two-point conversion is good; 14-0, GILR.

RUSH (2:14) — SANB, James Sanchez, 79-yard touchdown, PAT (Tino Granados) is good; 14-7, SANB.

Second Quarter

RUSH (8:09) — SANB, Michael Bocksnick, 4-yard touchdown, PAT (Tino Granados) is no good; 14-13, GILR.

PASS (4:30) — GILR, Niko Fortino to Brent Newton, 15-yard touchdown, two-point conversion is no good; 20-13, GILR.

RUSH (:10) — SANB, Cody Hendricks, 1-yard touchdown, PAT (Tino Granados) is good; 20-20.

Fourth Quarter

PASS (9:39) — GILR, Niko Fortino to Jourdan Soares, 19-yard touchdown, two-point conversion is no good; 26-20, GILR.

RUSH (8:13) — SANB, Michael Bocksnick, 52-yard touchdown, PAT (Tino Granados) is good; 27-26, SANB.

PASS (7:07) — GILR, Niko Fortino to Jourdan Soares, 55-yard touchdown, two-point conversion is no good; 32-27, GILR.

RECOVERY (2:14) — SANB, Marcos Silva, PAT (Tino Granados) is good; 34-32, SANB.

 

SAN BENITO STATISTICS

Passing: Tyler Decker — 2 of 5, 15 yards; Michael Bocksnick — 2 of 3, 54 yards. Rushing: Tyler Decker — 11 attempts, 27 yards; Michael Bocksnick — 6 attempts, 52 yards, 2 touchdowns; James Sanchez — 7 attempts, 164 yards, 1 touchdown; Cody Hendricks — 16 attempts, 77 yards, 1 touchdown; Anthony Cervantes — 2 attempts, 6 yards; James Flook — 6 attempts, 11 yards; Conner Stevens — 1 attempt, -1 yards. Receiving: Cody Hendricks — 1 reception, 39 yards; Anthony Cervantes — 1 reception, 5 yards; James Flook — 1 reception, 10 yards; Kristian Servin — 1 reception, 15 yards.

 

GILROY STATISTICS

Passing: Niko Fortino — 27 of 54, 465 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; Jourdan Soares — 1 of 1, 34 yards. Rushing: Niko Fortino — 3 attempts, -16 yards; Romeo Travis — 6 attempts, 46 yards; Eric Vegas — 8 attempts, 31 yards; Jourdan Soares — 1 attempts, -7 yards. Receiving: Julius Travis — 10 receptions, 158 yards, 1 touchdown; Jourdan Soares — 9 receptions, 260 yards, 3 touchdowns; Ryan Alba — 2 receptions, 27 yards; Eric Vegas — 4 receptions, 31 yards; Brent Newton — 3 receptions, 23 yards, 1 touchdown.

 

TOTAL OFFENSE

San Benito — 405 yards (336 rush, 69 pass)

Gilroy — 569 yards (499 pass, 70 rush)

 

TURNOVERS

San Benito — 1

Gilroy — 2

 

SACKS —

San Benito — 1 (Cody Hendricks) for -8 yards.

Gilroy — 3 (Brett Newton, Devon Castaneda, Eric Vegas) for -9 yards.

 

PENALTIES

San Benito — 3 for -25 yards.

Gilroy — 14 for -118 yards.

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