SEVERANCE BOWL: Mustangs take control in second half to top Cougars, 40-17

Gilroy's Eric Vegas dodges a tackle by Christopher's Patrick

Gilroy High wide receiver Jourdan Soares accounted for four
touchdowns, including a momentum-shifting 95-yard kickoff return,
igniting a second half push to catapult the Mustangs past crosstown
rival Christopher High 40-17 in the inaugural Severance Bowl in
front of a lively
– and cold – crowd on a chilly Friday night in Garcia-Elder
Sports Complex.
Gilroy High junior wide receiver Jourdan Soares accounted for four touchdowns, including a momentum-shifting 95-yard kickoff return, igniting a second half push to catapult the Mustangs past crosstown rival Christopher High 40-17 in the inaugural Severance Bowl in front of a lively – and cold – crowd on a chilly Friday night in Garcia-Elder Sports Complex.

“It’s a great way to send out the seniors,” GHS head coach Greg Garcia said. “They wanted it. They wanted to play.”

The Mustangs sprinted to the Severance Bell moments after the final buzzer and let it ring, signaling their triumph and announcing ownership of the 135-year-old bell for the next 365 days.

“We had a tough season, it’s just a good way to finish,” GHS senior Eric Vegas said.

The Week 10 matchup lived up to its billing as the players left it all on the field; a bit of back-and-forth banter and plenty of crunching collisions.

“I thought it was a good, hard-fought game,” CHS head coach Tim Pierleoni said. “There was a lot of intensity on both sides and we expected that.”

Soares’ return came on the heels of a Cougars’ touchdown, which brought them within three points at 20-17 early in the third quarter.

CHS quarterback Brandon Pickens paired with receiver Bryant Cid on back-to-back big gainers of 30 and 34 yards, the latter resulting in a Cid score.

“I felt like we had them. We were going strong. I thought we would keep it going,” Cid said.

However, on the ensuing kickoff, Soares, who also had three touchdown receptions in the ball game, delivered the knockout blow, feeling his way through the first level of blockers before turning on the burners to the end zone.

“It was the change in the game,” Garcia said. “Having that answer was a blessing in disguise.”

Things went from bad to worse for the Cougars on their next set of downs. After a promising start to the drive by way of a Nic Slater 40-yard run, the trip stalled and CHS (3-7) lined up to punt. But a bad snap led to the Mustangs (2-8) taking over at the Cougars’ 10-yard line and three plays later they cashed in on the miscue.

Quarterback Niko Fortino lofted a jump ball into the back left corner of the end zone and senior Julius Travis came down with the ball for the 5-yard score and a 33-17 advantage.

“It took some wind out of us,” Pierleoni said. “That botched punt really changed the momentum. We are so young and we can’t make those mistakes. But they are great kids and I’ll go to battle with them anytime.”

Gilroy added an exclamation point at the tail end of a time-consuming 12-play, 72-yard drive that gobbled up nearly seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Soares reeled in his third receiving touchdown on a 15-yard strike from Fortino, who posted an efficient 19-for-36, 215 yards and five touchdowns.

“We showed tonight what we had,” senior Romeo Travis said. “We played as a family, it’s a good feeling. We are the Gilroy High School. That’s what we go by.”

The first half turned into a tightly contested 24 minutes despite the the Mustangs bolting out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

A 12-play, 59-yard march on their opening series, which ended with a Fortino-to-Soares 15-yard connection, set an early tone. Romeo Travis did most of the damage on a 50-yard screen pass to paydirt to give GHS the 14-point separation.

The Cougars found their footing in a big way on their ensuing offensive snap. Cid hauled in a Pickens pass at his shoelaces, broke a tackle at midfield and polished off a 54-yard score to inch CHS to a slim 14-7 deficit.

A 22-yard field goal by Slater – set up by a GHS fumble – made it 14-10 and began to change the complexion of the game.

Patrick Valdez picked off Fortino at the Cougars’ 3-yard line with 3:53 to play in the second quarter, thwarting the Mustangs in the red zone.

“I just read where the he was going and went to the ball and got it,” Valdez said.

Disturbed by a bad snap, the Cougars’ set of downs following the interception netted minus-15 yards, which ultimately led to a punt out of their own end zone.

The Mustangs capitalized on the prime field position and Fortino hit Soares for an 11-yard touchdown with 18 seconds to play before the break to give the Mustangs some breathing room into the half.

“The first half, I felt like we did good. Drove the ball and scored some points,” Cid said. “But it slipped away from us.”

Notes: The Mustangs totaled 294 yards on offense to the Cougars 223… Slater hammered out 97 yards on 19 carries to lead CHS…Vegas had a team-high 52 rushing yards on 10 carries… Soares finished with 53 yards on seven catches while Cid posted a game-high 139 yards on five catches…Pickens completed 10-of-19 for 156 yards… Superintendent Dr. Deborah Flores handled the opening coin toss duties. GHS principal Dr. Marco Sanchez and CHS principal John Perales simultaneously rang the Severance Bell before the opening kickoff.

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