Two teams that had been through nine frustrating weeks with a combined three victories to show for resilient effort locked horns for a season-finale worth more than a ‘W’ in the standings on a cold Friday night in Gilroy.
The temperature matched the frigid feelings Gilroy High and Christopher High held for one another once the kickoff signaled the start of 48 minutes of raw emotion.
It wasn’t the cleanest of contests – a combined 28 penalties were called, 11 turnovers shared, and a brief coaches conference in the second quarter was needed just to make sure players’ tempers stayed even keel.
But the Cougars made the most of the Mustangs’ offerings and dashed to a 44-17 victory – its second straight Severance Bowl title. The bell is going back to Christopher High.
“I’m just glad we got this one,” CHS senior Josh Salgado said. “We have been looking forward to this all year. Coach (Tim Pierleoni) loves that bell. We had to bring it back for him.”
The Cougars raced toward the north end zone after a cordial postgame handshake and gathered around the 137-year old Severance Bell, its deep ring punctuating the triumph.
A mere 50-yards away, the tone was more somber, as GHS players stood steadfast on the ‘G’ at the center of the Garcia-Elder Sports Complex field.
Hit with the realization that their season – one filled with injuries to key players and the loss of others to grades – had ended with a defeat in a game that they wanted so badly, tears streamed down most of faces.
“We came out here and tried,” said GHS senior defensive lineman Luke Otteson, who had a sack. “The injuries and grades – we had all kinds of trouble. We just fought. I’m proud. We have like 20 guys and we fought.”
Enacting his captaincy role to the very end, GHS senior Izack Lugo went to each seemingly inconsolable player one by one to offer his kudos for playing out the year.
“I had to let them know that I love them,” said Lugo, who recovered three CHS fumbles in the game. “It’s tough. It started this summer, losing our quarterback, and then (starting running back) Brandon (Boyd) and all of that. We have been saying all season long that we have to fight through it, make the best of it and have fun.”
Lost in the hustle and bustle of the rivalry was the tiny subplot that the meeting was also the closer to the teams’ first year in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division. Both end up with identical 2-8 overall records. The Cougars (2-4 division), though, technically finish ahead of the Mustangs (1-5 division) in league.
“The kids worked hard all week and I think that really had a lot to do with it,” Pierleoni said. “We walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves. We can’t wipe away all those eight losses, but it feels good. I’m happy we can keep that bell. It’s a big deal.”
The Mustangs coughed up the ball three times in the first half, and played from behind almost immediately.
“You can’t win football games when you have to constantly play catch up,” GHS head coach Brian Boyd said. “We wanted to win that bell. It was tough standing there having to deal with it. But it had to be one of us. They are good guys.”
Rayshon Mills rushed for 129 yards on 20 touches – including two first half touchdowns – as the Cougars jumped ahead 14-3 early in the second quarter. The junior, who figures to make even more noise as a senior in 2013, also returned an interception 107 yards, from end zone to end zone, in the fourth quarter.
“Coming into the game I felt that we had a chance to run the football, and I think we did what I thought we could do,” Pierleoni said.
Mills actually followed in the footsteps of Raul Tovar, who was the first Cougar to record a pick-six Friday night. Tovar’s 25-yard interception return came midway through the second quarter and gave CHS a 21-3 lead.
A Raul Meza 21-yard field goal that came at the end of a 6-minute, 13 second, 16-play drive, pushed the Cougars ahead 24-3 with 1:17 to go before half.
The Mustangs were not out of the woods yet, however. A fumble on the ensuing kickoff set CHS up at the GHS 35-yard line, and two plays later, Sterling Montgomery hit a wide-open Max Sanford for a 20-yard touchdown to carry the Cougars into the locker room ahead 31-3.
“We were really composed. We kept going, kept pushing and never stopped,” said Sanford, who finished with six catches for 101 yards. “It’s our hearts. We had the edge. We came out on top.”
Gilroy senior Jared York (25 carries, 100 yards), who accounted for almost half of the Mustangs’ offensive output, rumbled in from 8-yards out 1:10 into the third quarter.
Montgomery and the Cougars countered eight minutes later as the junior signal caller connected with Tovar on a curl route, which turned into a 29-yard sprint for a 37-10 CHS lead.
“Sterling threw the ball really well tonight,” Pierleoni said.
Mills’ length-of-the-field journey made it 44-10, before York lowered his head for a rugged 19-yard score with 2:48 left.
NOTES: Total yards: Christopher 321, Gilroy 206…Raul Meza had two interceptions, Andrie Arroyo blocked a punt and Victor Sevillano and Isaiah Campos recovered fumbles for CHS…Isaiah Madolora had an interception for GHS…both Mills and York had touchdown runs negated by penalty…Mikey Guerrero spelled GHs starting quarterback Jose Salazar in the fourth quarter and paired with Brendan Holelr for the longest offensive play of the night – a 53-yard pitch and catch.