In a matchup of the Cowboys’ vaunted ground attack and the Mustangs’ aerial assault, a back-and-fourth scoring event ensued between Gilroy High and Salinas on Friday night at The Pit.
Using mainly an option-style offense, the Cowboys ran for 380 yards on an astounding 52 attempts, toppling the Mustangs 42-35 in Tri-County Athletic League action.
Running backs Everatt Ball (20 carries, 197 yards and 2 TD) and Beau Schuler (21 for 114 yards) led the way. The Cowboys totaled 436 yards as a whole, with quarterback Matt Leighton throwing just three times (2-of-3) for 56 yards and one touchdown.
“It was nothing cute, they ran three formations and we couldn’t stop it,” GHS head coach Steven Lo said. “We need to bounce back after this and fix it and need to do some things better defensively.”
With both teams exchanging scores on nearly every possession, a 10-yard run by Leighton at 11:34 in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference for the Cowboys. Leading 42-35 after that, the Salinas defense held strong on Gilroy’s final two possessions.
Despite allowing for senior quarterback Niko Fortino to go 16-of-29 passing for 303 yards and five touchdowns, with 4:31 left in the game, and facing a fourth-and-nine, Fortino threw a perfectly placed ball into the hands of receiver Jordan Soares that was knocked out by two SHS defenders.
With less than a minute to play, Gilroy used it’s final timeout to try to stop the clock, but with 1:48 left and on a third-and-four, Schuler took the ball four yards for a first down. Without the ability to stop the clock, the Cowboys took two kneel downs to end it.
“We messed up (defensively),” GHS safety Jose Betencourt said. “We had to many mental mistakes, but that’s why we have to bounce back.”
The Mustangs’ running game was stagnant all night with running back Brandon Boyd leading the game for GHS with just 56 yards on 18 attempts.
Passing was not the issue for the Mustangs, though, with the most exciting play coming on a 79-yard bomb from Fortino to receiver Brandon Holler, giving GHS a 14-7 lead with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
Down 28-21 in the second quarter, Fortino found Holler again, this time on a fade route to the corner of the end zone to tie the score 28-28 with 41 seconds left in the half.
In the second half, tied 28-28, a 43-yard return by Soares -and a 16-yard run by Boyd – put the Mustangs on Salinas’ 41-yard line. But on fourth-and-five, Fortino lofted a ball into the hands of a Cowboys’ defender for an interception. Five plays later, a 1-yard run by Raymond Cerda gave the Cowboys the led right back 35-28 with 7:27 in the third quarter.
After forcing the Cowboys first three-and-out of the game, Boyd rushed through the Salinas defense for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the game up 35-35 with 1:31 in the third.
That was as close as the Mustangs got, as the Cowboys forced two consecutive failed scoring drives.
The Mustangs (4-3 overall, 3-1 TCAL) will have to beat Palma High School, who beat Alvarez 42-6 on Friday and moved to 4-0 in TCAL play in order to stay in touch with the top of the standings.
“Palma is a good team and they are going to be the hardest test for us this year,” Lo said. “We have to be able to bounce back after this, and taking the mistakes from this week I think is the first step for it.”
Game time between GHS and Palma is scheduled Friday at 7:30 p.m. at GHS.