Gilroy took one more step toward one of those rare seasons thanks to its 34-14 win over Hillsdale Friday.
The Mustangs improved to 12-0 overall and advanced to the Central Coast Section Division V title game next week. This will be Gilroy’s first trip to a CCS championship game since losing to Oak Grove in the 2007 Open Division title game.
Gilroy will now await the winner of No. 6 Scotts Valley and No. 2 Menlo School who will square off Saturday afternoon. Following the game, the date and time of the title game will be announced.
The game will be held at a neutral site, likely a night game on Dec. 2.
“The kids have earned it,” said coach Jubenal Rodriguez. “This was the expectation and we just got to finish.”
The win comes a year after the Mustangs had their hearts broken in the Division IV semifinals game in Soledad.
“This time last year we made promises that we kept. We made those promises a reality and this is huge for the city of Gilroy and for our team,” said runningback Joseph Barnes. “We’re the first ever to go 12-0 into the finals and it feels great.”
To get there, Gilroy had to overcome a rocky first quarter and a Hillsdale runningback who at times was hard to bring down and kept pounding the Mustang defensive line.
But after getting over a couple of hiccups, Gilroy showed the tenacity that got the Mustangs to the semifinal game for the second year in a row.
Barnes rushed for 117 yards and a 60-yard touchdown and threw for a 51-yard TD strike that turned the tide of the game.
Hillsdale went up 14-7 at the 6:46 mark of the first quarter following an early pick-6 and a big run to put the Mustangs on the ropes.
Barnes took a handoff, faked a run on to outside and hit Braulio Rodriguez in stride who beat his lone defender for a 51-yard touchdown.
Barnes said they had worked on that play for two weeks and it was something that didn’t pan out in practice.
“Evertime in practice I would be throwing ducks and interceptions, but it paid off and it worked out in this game,” Barnes said.
That kicked off a string of 27-unsanswered points for the Mustangs to run away with the game.
Christian Rodriguez had two touchdowns, rushing for 41 yards on eight carries. Braulio Rodriguez scored the back-breaker in the fourth quarter on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Weiler with 2:20 to play.
Beyond that, it was Gilroy’s defense that stepped up as it has done all season.
“We were mentally and physically focused all week,” Barnes said. “This was probably one of the best weeks of practice. We were focused on defense, mostly. We knew we had to stop the runningback and that was their main scorer.
Tony Andrade was a machine at linebacker, disrupting plays in the backfield all night and came away with a fumble recovery in the first quarter that led to Gilroy’s first touchdown.
A missed handoff on Hillsdale’s first play on offense got dropped on the ground and Andrade dove on the loose ball.
Three plays later, Christian Rodriguez punched the ball in from six yards out.
Christian had the go-ahead touchdown midway through the second quarter when he broke for an 11-yard touchdown.
That was set up by the defense holding on fourth down when runningback Nick Hulman was stopped a yard short.
Hulman ran for 110 yards and a touchdown for the Knights.
Despite scoring 14 points, Hillsdale had just two first downs in the first half and nine for the game.
After both sides struggled to get their offenses working in the second half—despite Barnes rushing for a 60-yard score with 1:05 to play in the third quarter—Hillsdale finally started seeing some success midway through the fourth quarter.
The Knights converted three first downs, including a fourth and 1 and a third and 6 to get deep into Mustang territory.
But Hulman was stopped on third down on a broken play that led to a four-yard loss. Then on fourth down, Alex Felix smashed his way into the backfield to come up with a sack that resulted in a 10-yard loss with less than 3 minutes to play.
“That was just the nail in the coffin right there and we just had to finish strong,” Jubenal said. “It was just perfect.”
That led to Weiler hitting Braulio for a 53-yard score with 2:20 left to play.
Hillsdale’s last gasp ended with a pair of incompletions with 35 seconds left to play to send Gilroy home winners.
Hillsdale got rolling quickly thanks to Joey Sabel running back an interception 18 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game.
After Gilroy answered with Christian’s touchdown for the Mustangs’ first score of the night, Hulman broke free for a 48-yard touchdown for a 14-7 lead.
But the outburst 5:14 into the game was as much as the Knights could muster offensively even if the defense made things difficult for Gilroy.
The Mustangs were just two of 10 on third down for the night despite moving the chains or scoring 14 times on the night.
Now Gilroy must prepare for its toughest test of the year, regardless who is lining up across from the team.
The 7-4 Menlo-School Knights are making a bid to return to the CCS Division V a year after losing to Half Moon Bay.
In the way is Scotts Valley who is hoping to make its first CCS championship appearance in school history.
The Falcons are also 7-4 overall coming off a revenge win over Soledad 24-17.
Gilroy will be watching the game closely, as Menlo will likely feature the best quarterback the Mustangs will have seen since Christopher early in October. But the Mustangs will have seen three quality quarterback this season, including Live Oak and Carmel. Both those games, however, were early in the season. Scotts Valley will feature a more balanced offense, but are smaller in number making the Falcons underdogs heading into the contest.