FOOTBALL: Gilroy High, San Benito square off in annual Prune Bowl tonight

Gilroy High senior lineman Izack Lugo has one vivid memory of the last time the Mustangs faced San Benito. The game clocked at just reached triple zeros of a one-sided 39-3 Balers victory in the 2011 Prune Bowl.

Out of a sea of celebrating red came then-senior San Benito linebacker Jonathan Huaracha with the VFW Memorial Trophy in hand, aimed like a machine gun at a dejected GHS sideline.

It was a shot to the heart, in more ways than one.

“I’ve been trying to get everyone pumped and remind them about what happened last year,” Lugo said at practice Wednesday. “He went terminator on us. I’ll probably never forget that for the rest of my life.”

More lasting memories (good and bad) will be made tonight and etched into the history books, and onto the trophy, as the long standing rivalry – a term not used lightly – steeped in tradition and history reaches encounter No. 56 and kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Garcia-Elder Sports Complex in Gilroy.

And that trophy? Well that has been on display at San Benito practices all week, where the Balers intend to keep it for the third straight year.

“To me there has to be a greater sense of urgency,” San Benito head coach Chris Cameron said. “Number one, we don’t want to pass this (trophy) over to them. It would be great to see our guys celebrate around it and not watching them do it. Especially on their field.”

The Balers’ back-to-back wins came on the heels of three straight GHS triumphs from 2007 to 2009. San Benito took back the trophy in 2010, when a blocked punt-turned touchdown lifted the Balers to a 34-32 decision and thwarted an upset-minded GHS squad from securing the 4-peat.

“It’s a no-lose situation,” GHS senior lineman Gianfranco Fortino said. “Practice has been intense from the field to the weight room – more this week than other weeks. We have to come out and hit, and not get hit.”

There is no love lost between the two programs. Results resonate throughout both towns. Bragging rights are enacted and fully used.

“It’s not just the Prune Bowl – it’s a Hollister-Gilroy thing,” GHS head coach Brian Boyd said. “This is a city game. We are all on board getting that trophy back in Gilroy.

“It’s huge to play at home,” Boyd continued. “We are hoping we get a really good turnout. This is a big game. It’s massive for the whole city.”

That aspect of the game hasn’t changed in more than five decades. But what has fluctuated is the league implications for each team. Heading into the last two meetings, Gilroy has had a combined 5-11 record, while the Balers have used victories over GHS as stepping stones to two playoff berths and, in last year’s case, a league championship.

What 2012 presents is an entirely different situation. Wins haven’t been the norm, and each side must quickly make a move to keep the postseason a reality as the second half of the season rolls on.

“It’s probably a game that will indicate where the program is going to go the rest of the season,” coach Boyd said. “I think there’s a lot at stake. It means a lot. These guys are going to come out with their heads held high. They are ready. They understand the importance of it.”

The Balers (2-4 overall, 0-2 Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division) are 1-4 since an opening-week win over Pioneer. The win was a forfeit victory over Los Altos.

“I’m hoping to win. We need a win. We aren’t playing real well. We are suffering. We are not playing good football, you know, throughout the course of the game offensively or defensively,” Cameron said. “We are desperate for a victory and the taste of a victory.

“It’s not just for the sake of this piece of wood next to me here,” he continued. “But it’s for the sake of we need to get going.”

Gilroy’s (2-5 overall, 1-2 MBL Gabilan Division) two victories have come against Pajaro Valley and Everett Alvarez, two teams with 1-6 and 0-6 records, respectively, and in recent weeks, turnovers have taken the Mustangs out of games.

“We have to execute our assignments,” Lugo said. “Our offense has been horrible the last few games. If we can limit our mental mistakes I think we should be good.”

Both teams have been hampered by injuries. The most glaring, perhaps, is that the game will be played without the 2011 now-dissolved Tri-County Athletic League co-Sophomore of the Year award recipients Josh George and Brandon Boyd. George, the Balers starting quarterback entering the season and Boyd, Gilroy’s returning 1,000-yard rusher, both suffered season-ending dislocated shoulder injuries.

Sophomore David Stanton took over for George, while the Mustangs have used a host of backs in Boyd’s absence, including senior Ricky Alvarado – who might miss tonight’s game, Boyd said – senior speedster Brendan Holler and sophomore David Montes, who got the start last week at Alvarez.

“A win would probably make us forget about all that has gone on and it will give us momentum for the next two games,” Holler said. “I want that trophy here.”

Since 2000, San Benito has won eight of the 12 matchups, including five of the six on GHS turf. Records and stats, though, are always thrown out the window when the two teams meet.

“They have had a lot of the same issues we have had with injuries,” coach Boyd said. “We think we matchup very well with them. We have to stop their dive, stop their option, and stop their counter. We are glad to be at home, off that grass and where we can be fast.”

The Balers, like the Mustangs, are watching young players step into starting roles and building week to week. Cameron believes his team, which is coming off of a 28-7 loss to Monterey, has started to make the proper steps forward.

“We are used to playing tough physical football and they just took it to us last week. I felt like we came ready to go,” he said. “This week, we are kind of picking up where we left. Off. We are having the best practices we’ve had all year. We are picking up form that point but we need to carry that with us.”

By kickoff tonight, nothing else will matter except the play on the field. No doubt, the cracking of pads will be loud, the atmosphere will be electric and it will be quality football. And both want to be on the right side of history.

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