UPDATED: After six years, the Bell returns to Gilroy

Members of the Gilroy football team come together around the Severance Bell after defeating Christopher 24-6.

If you needed any indication what the Severance Bowl meant to Gilroy, you had to look no further than Spencer Soares.
The Gilroy senior ran up and down the sidelines screaming that they were about to ring the Severance Bell, ripping off his helmet every time he came off the field and got more and more manic as the clock ticked ever lower.
Finally, the clock struck zeros, the scoreboard read Gilroy 24, Christopher 6 and the Mustangs raced to the west end zone to do something they had not done for seven years: Ring the Bell signifying they won the rivalry game.
“It’s something our team just always wanted and just so happy that we were finally able to do it,” said Gilroy quarterback Jon Jon Castro.
Castro and the entire team were at a loss for words for what had happened that night.
The only other time the Mustangs won the Bell was in the first year of the rivalry game when they beat the Cougars 40-17 in 2010. Since then, it has been all Christopher who got to ring and keep the bell for the last six years.
“Our job as coaches was to constantly instill confidence in the boys and they came out and proved it,” said Gilroy coach Jubenal Rodriguez. “I have a lot of respect for Coach (Tim) Pierleoni, but our program was definitely the better one.”
As the clock wound down, the Gilroy kids got louder and louder with their cheers that they were going to ring the bell and none louder than Soares.
“Spencer was there when I first got hired as a sophomore on varsity with me. He experienced the lows of program,” Rodriguez said. “It was awesome to see him let off all the emotions he had built up.”
Gilroy improves to 6-0 and now has the inside track for something truly special.
The Mustangs in their remaining four games against teams that are a combined 9-16 overall in their chase to win out and claim the division title.
Gilroy has not won a league title out right since 2007 when the Mustangs captured the Tri-County Athletic League crown. The following year Gilroy was forced to share the title in a three-way tie after losing to North Salinas to snap an eight-game winning streak.
Still up ahead for Gilroy is 4-2 Watsonville on the road. That will be followed by Pajaro Valley (1-6), Monterey (2-4) and North Monterey County (2-5).
“That was a huge game for us because gave us a playoff experience with the atmosphere. That added to it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s definitely going to prepare us going into Watsonville.”
The loss is Christopher’s first of the season, dropping the Cougars to 6-1, 2-1. CHS still has Alisal (3-4, 2-1) and Watsonville (4-2, 1-1) left on the docket, but wins against them and a win over Monterey would put pressure on the Mustangs to win out.
“We’ve got three tough games left without a doubt,” Pierleoni said. “Monterey, Alisal, Watsonville, they’re all good football teams and they’re all getting better. We’ve got our work cut out for us, without a doubt. That’s called life. There’s wins, there’s loses. That’s football.”
Gilroy stunned Christopher thanks to an offense that refused to leave the field and a defense that played fast and played aggressive.
“We were ready physically, mentally,” Barnes said. “We were preparing for two weeks because of the bye week and we knew before we stepped on the field that we would be ready.”
The Mustangs came away with three interceptions on the night and one fumble recovery.
Christian Rodriguez rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown and pulled in the fumble in the fourth quarter after Christopher had entered Mustang territory and was threatening to get on the board.
Teammate Joseph Barnes rushed for 83 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown.
Quarterback Jon Jon Castro threw for 96 yards including a 27-yard touchdown to Andrew Castro to put Gilroy up 24-0.
Jon Jon also came away with a key interception denying the Cougars who had marched down to the Gilroy 6 after Ben Sanford completed five passes in a row.
It proved to be a momentum swing as Christopher was attempting to answer a Gilroy touchdown that came on the pervious series.
Rodriguez broke a scoreless tie 53 seconds into the second quarter on a four-yard run to cap a 49-yard, 11-play scoring drive.
Christopher had one possession in the first quarter, a three and out that resulted in a punt.
Pierleoni said with his offense off the field, it put immense pressure on his defense to step up and ultimately the Mustangs simply grinded the game out.
“I thought our defense played really well for being on the field for three quarters of the game,” Pierleoni said. “They played really, really well, but all the credit goes to Gilroy High. They did an excellent job.”
The Cougars in the second quarter converted a key third down and Sanford seemed unstoppable as Christopher threatened to answer the score.
But Jon Jon Castro found a pass headed his way and he flipped the script.
“I was just behind the ball on that. Brandon (Weiler) was in front of me and the ball just ended up coming to me,” Jon Jon said. “It was a huge momentum change and I couldn’t have done it without these guys.”
Sanford still had 121 yards passing with a touchdown, but he and Christopher just seemed snake-bit the entire night.
“It kind of felt that way. We definitely didn’t get any breaks tonight, that’s for sure,” Pierleoni said. “They played an excellent game. Their coaches did an excellent job. The kids did an excellent job. They took the air out of the ball the whole night. They did exactly what they needed to do. They kept our offense on the sidelines. That was a very good game played by Gilroy High School.”
After Christopher’s defense denied Gilroy points off the turnover, the Cougars had eyes on marching down the field, but a pass up the middle some how found the hands of Alex Felix who ripped it out of the air that left the Christopher sideline stunned.
That led to a Sam Zamaripa 27-yard field goal to send Gilroy into the half leading 10-0.
Out of the half, Christopher was able to get the ball moving, but couldn’t find that big play to get back into the game.
And bad luck struck again.
A pass along the sidelines that threatened a big gain turned into an interception when the ball was bobbled and Brandon Weiler stole it out of the air.
Gilroy made it hurt both on the clock and on the score board as the Mustangs went on a 48-yard, 13-play drive that saw two converted fourth downs including a fourth and 1 that went for a Barnes 1-yard score with 9 seconds left in the third quarter.
Christopher finally got on the board after Gilroy went up 24-0.
Sanford found Joseph Cupp for a 28-yard strike to get on the board with 3:06 left.
But Gilroy converted a big third down and ran out the clock preserving the win.
After the game, even Gilroy Principal Marco Sanchez came by to congratulate the boys on their victory. It reiterated a level of commitment Rodriguez said he’s seen from the administration since he’s taken over the program.
“I want to thank the Gilroy High School administration who give me the opportunity to take this program to the next level back in 2015. Just a huge thanks to them,” Rodriguez said.
Gilroy next travels to Watsonville 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13. Christopher will next host Alisal 7:30 p.m. the same night.

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