Are you ready for the some Prune Bowl?

Marcos Silva camps under the football as it floats into his arms

Christian Goldstein holds a unique perspective on tonight’s 55th Prune Bowl between Gilroy High and San Benito. It’s one that could rank as the rarest in the storied history of the rivalry game.

Goldstein, a senior wide receiver for the Mustangs, spent last year in San Benito red and white preparing for the annual grudge match. He suited up in San Benito’s improbable 34-32 come-from-behind victory in last year’s game, snapping GHS’s three-year stranglehold on the coveted VFW Memorial Trophy. Goldstein, though, was injured in the second quarter, long before Enrique Ramos blocked a Mustangs’ punt in the end zone and Marcos Silva snagged it out of the air for the game-winning touchdown.

Goldstein has now seen what this game means to both sides and the intensity that is produced in the week of practice leading up to kickoff.

“I used to despise this team,” Goldstein said, looking toward his Gilroy teammates with a smile. “But now it’s a little different. At first I was a little skeptical, knowing that this was the rival before. But (Gilroy) showed me a lot of love.

“It’s been way more serious this week. We are watching film, going over scouting reports. It’s really, really focused.”

As seems to be the norm when the Balers and Mustangs lock horns on the gridiron, there is much more at stake than just pride and a trophy.

From a win-loss angle, the Mustangs are limping into tonight’s game. After winning its first three Tri-County Athletic League games, Gilroy has dropped two straight (Salinas, Palma) and sits on the proverbial playoff bubble, looking at a postseason berth. Gilroy must win at least one of its final two games to get in. For San Benito, a victory gives them a shot to win the TCAL for the first time since the 2005-06 season. A season finale against Palma holds that possibility up in the air.

“Anytime you have Hollister and Gilroy it’s always going to come down to the wire,” said GHS head coach Steven Lo, who played in the Prune Bowl during his time at GHS in the early 2000s. “Records don’t mean anything. When there’s so much at stake, and so many people have played this game before you, you’re going to bring it.

“There’s a lot at stake for everybody. They are trying to win a league title and they have to go through us to do it. We have playoffs in our mind, and in order for us to do it, they are in our way. So it’s going to be a really good game.”

On the brightside, Gilroy possesses one of the most potent offenses in the Tri-County area, piling up 317 points in eight games. Quarterback Niko Fortino’s 28 touchdown passes is tops in the TCAL, and his No. 1 target, receiver Jourdan Soares, has numbers that rank him among the state’s best. Soares has hauled in 57 passes for 1,306 yards and 15 scores. Running back Brandon Boyd will become Gilroy’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Paul Gonzales gained 1,075 yards during the 2006-07 season. Boyd has 981 yards and seven touchdowns heading into tonight’s contest.

Flip the coin, however, and the Mustangs’ defense has surrendered the second-most points (299) in the TCAL. North Salinas holds the dubious distinction of allowing a league-high 325. Teams have gashed Gilroy’s defense for 2,269 yards this season. The inconsistencies on defense led to a change on personnel and Lo, with help of coach Max Nazabal, is now calling the plays. 

“It’s the aggressiveness, letting the kids pin their ears back and go for it. That’s the biggest change we have,” Lo said. “Once we kind of let the kids go, they started playing football. We won’t know how it goes until we step on the field, but it’s good so far.”

Goldstein added that the change in scheme has produced a greater urgency to the ball.

“We’ve been running drills where if the offense gains more than two yards we start running,” Goldstein said, who lines up at linebacker. “I’ve seen the lineman over at Hollister. I’ve seen them in the weight room and I know how they work. They work really hard. We have to stay low. If we don’t stay low we are going to get beat.”

Limiting the Balers big plays on the ground is the No. 1 priority for the Mustangs, and that starts with keying on quarterback Michael Bocksnick, who Lo said he considers as the most “dynamic” player in the league.

“He’s scary,” Lo said. “Everything he brings to the table – he can throw the ball, he can run the ball, he’s strong, he’s elusive. If you put two guys on him to stop him from running around, he’s going to throw the ball over your head.”

Bocksnick, despite missing time with injury, is the Balers’ second-leading rusher with 481 yards. Zak Hicks leads in the category with 542 yards for as team that has churned up 1,946 yards on the ground.

All numbers aside, if tonight’s Prune Bowl is anything like past encounters, fans are in for a treat.

“Our kids are pretty hungry,” Lo said. “Giving up is not in their character, it’s not what we have instilled in them.”

Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Andy Hardin Stadium in Hollister.

n San Benito holds the all-time series 30-23-1 over the Mustangs.

 

TONIGHT:

GHS (4-4, 3-2 TCAL) at San Benito (5-2-1, 4-0), 7:30

 

TONIGHT

CHS (7-1, 4-1 MBL) vs. Watsonville (1-7, 0-4), 7:30

– The Cougars can lock up second place in the Monterey Bay League with a victory tonight. According to various websites and Central Coast Section pundits and point gurus, a victory would all but lock in CHS to a Division III playoff berth. That notion though is the furthest thing from head coach Tim Pierleoni’s mind. “We always focus on the one game in front of us,” he said.

– The Wildcatz feature a pair of talented runners in quarterback Lamar Cowans (710 yards on 94 carries) and Fabian Serrano (1,016 yards, 176 carries). “They are players, they are really, really good,” Pierleoni said.

– Christopher’s first senior class of football players will be honored prior to kickoff at 7 p.m.

 

SATURDAY:

Anchorpoint (3-3, 3-1) vs. Antelope Valley (2-3), 4

– Pinewood handed Anchorpoint the program’s first defeat in 21 league games last week. But the Warriors are poised to end the season on a strong note.

– The Warriors will honor five seniors.

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