Defense shines as Gilroy returns to semi finals

When Gilroy needed its defense the most, it came through against Santa Cruz.

The Cardinals turned the ball over three times to start the game and the Mustang defense held them twice in a row on fourth down to help bolster an offense that got off to a slow start.

Eventually, things clicked on both sides of the ball and the Mustangs cruised to a 41-7 win over Santa Cruz to advance to the semi finals of the Central Coast Section Division V playoffs for the second year in a row.

“Defense was huge for us. They definitely kept us in the game the first half. Santa Cruz came to play tonight early on,” said coach Jubenal Rodriguez. “Our defense answered and thank goodness the leadership started to show up and we woke up.”

Up next is Hillsdale who defeated Sobrato 28-7 Friday night in San Francisco.

Gilroy will advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row, marking the first time in school history that the Mustangs have accomplished that feat.

The Mustangs will take on Hillsdale for the right to advance to just the second championship game in team history. The last time was in 2007 when the Mustangs lost to Oak Grove.

To get there and avoid the let down it suffered against Soledad from last year, the team will have to be hungry in preparation for the No. 4 seed in the division.

“Personally, I’m going to be so hungry, I won’t even eat Thanksgiving dinner,” said runningback Christian Rodriguez about his desire to win next week. “We can’t have that taste in our mouths like last year. All of our seniors came back with that desire. And all the juniors who did play and all the people who did step up, they know what id feels like and they know what they taste in their mouths is like. So we all need to step it up and we don’t want that again. We’re here for one thing and that’s a ring.”

Rodriguez ran for 97 yards and three touchdowns while Joseph Barnes went for 150 yards and two scores.

Jubenal said Rodriguez was the vocal and physical leader of the night. And he needed to be as Santa Cruz made a point to not let Barnes take control of the game. When Barnes wasn’t seeing much success running the ball early, Rodriguez was able to get things rolling.

Eventually the task of defending both runners proved too much.

“That’s the beauty of the offense: You stop one thing and it opens up something else,” Jubenal said. “That’s the beauty of it. We know it’s big boy football next week. The kids know it and we know it’s going to be a challenge.”

The defense set the tone early for the Mustangs as Braulio Rodriguez and Max Pierce both intercepted Santa Cruz quarterback Abram Soriano on the Cardinals’ first two possessions of the game.

Pierce ran his back about 40 yards for a touchdown to put Gilroy up 7-0.

Santa Cruz’ third possession ended with a fumble recovered by Barnes setting up a Rodriguez 32-yard touchdown for a 13-0 lead.

The defense came up big on Santa Cruz’ next two possessions, holding on fourth down twice, including once with the Cardinals on the Gilroy 13.

Sal Zendejas came through with a sack of Soriano to end the threat.

After Gilroy was intercepted deep in its own territory, the defense came through again, with Tony Andrade coming up with a sack on third down. Santa Cruz threw an incomplete pass off a flea flicker to end the threat.

That seamed to wake up Gilroy’s offense, which responded by going 72 yards on nine plays with Barnes punching the ball in from 1 yard out and a 20-0 lead that stood at the half.

Gilroy came out of the break a little sluggish, but the Mustangs got things rolling on their second drive of the half, going 78-yards on 11 plays with Rodriguez going the final four yards for a score.

Rodriguez said in the second half there was a noticeable change in the line play. In the first half, he said, the line didn’t play to its potential, but found a rhythm in the second.

“The second half something finally clicked and we made adjustments in the second half and they finally stepped it up,” Rodriguez said. “They finally opened those holes to let me and Joe do what we got to do.”

The special teams made sure the momentum kept going, as Barnes recovered an onside kick that helped to set up Rodriguez for a second four-yard touchdown and a 34-0 lead in the third quarter.

From there, Andrade came up with a blocked of a punt to set Gilroy up on the Cardinals 36. Three plays later—including a Brandon Weiler 19-yard pass to Braulio Rodriguez—Barnes punched the ball in from 17-yards out at the start of the fourth quarter to put the game on ice.

From there, the game went to a running clock and Gilroy sent in most of its back ups.

But Santa Cruz wasn’t done as runningback Johnny Soto got his team on the board with a run yard run to cap a 69-yard drive.

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