Mustangs ride high to CCS championship

The Gilroy football team joins together to celebrate winning the Central Coast Section Division V football championship. Cheeto Barrera

CAMPBELL—When the Central Coast Section Division V championship was on the line, the Gilroy football team turned to the players who already knew what it takes to win a CCS title.

Joseph Barnes rushed for 234 yards and five touchdowns and Tony Andrade had four sacks on defense and recovered two fumbles. Both have CCS wrestling titles under their belts. Now they and the rest of the Gilroy team can call themselves CCS football champions.

“This is one of the top ones,” Barnes said of how this ranked with his two CCS wrestling titles. “We never won a CCS title in football, obviously, it feels great.”

The Mustangs captured the first football title defeating Menlo School 38-21.

“I wanted this bad since my freshman year,” Andrade said. “Ever since my freshman year I said I wanted to bring a CCS title to Gilroy.”

Along the way, Gilroy completed a perfect 13-0 season for the title.

“I knew we were going to be competitive. I knew the weight lifting would make us strong,” said coach Jubenal Rodriguez. “But I never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be 13-0. This championship is for the City of Gilroy. For the alumni who played for Gilroy. All the cheerleaders in the past. This is for the alumni. Definitely.”

If you needed a personification of just how much Gilroy wanted to pick up the win, you need look no further than Spencer Soares.

Soares made sure his team was fired up coming out of half, pacing the sidelines and shouting encouragements.

With the team leading 24-14 and just over 4 minutes left to play, Soares again paced the sidelines imploring his team to keep fighting. “Four minutes and 4 seconds. That’s all I’m asking from you!”

“It gets everyone’s blood going, even the coaches,” said quarterback Brandon Weiler. “I’d be surprised if the fans weren’t getting their blood pumping too.”

Then when the team celebrated its victory, it was Soares who went charging at the MVP of the night, laying out Barnes in a massive hug.

Oh and he pulled down the interception that put the game on ice.

On paper, this Mustang team should not be in the position it is now.

Rodriguez took over the program that had gone 3-7 the season before and saw its coach let go, angering players in the process.

Rodriguez went 3-7 his first season, but laid the foundation for greatness. The following year, Gilroy went 8-4 and went to the Division IV semifinals. Then this year, his team ran the table and it left Rodriguez at a loss for words.

“I’m speechless. This was a three-year project. I took over a program that was a little lost and the coaching staff brought direction,” Rodriguez said. “The kids were able to trust us and they were able to buy in. Once they did that the program just took off.”

His quarterback Weiler wasn’t even the QB at the start of the 2017 season.

Weiler unexpectedly had to take over the position and didn’t miss a beat.

“All season I prepared in case if the worst happened,” Weiler said. “In that case, it did and I was glad that I was able to step up and get us to where we are.”

And when his team needed him the most, Weiler didn’t let it down.

Rodriguez was especially impressed because Weiler not only played both ways, but he played quarterback and inside linebacker and excelled in both positions.

He threw for 124 yards on 6 of 15 passing and no interceptions.

In one of the key turning points of the game, Weiler stood in the pocket as Menlo defenders bore down on him.

Just ahead of getting smashed, Weiler delivered a pass to Max Pierce who had a defender draped all over him.

Pierce made the catch and fought his way for a 36-yard catch and run that set up Gilroy’s third TD of the night.

“I was just looking down field and I see him and there were guys coming at me, but I’m going to stand tall and I’m going to release it. I’m going to get it to him,” Weiler said. “I’m glad I did because I can trust him to bring the balls down even when they’re not the best.”

From there it was all Gilroy as Barnes scored from three yards out then scoring from 41 and 50 yards out in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

“We always say Mo-Joe. We’ve got to keep giving him the rock,” Rodriguez said. “And he’s an even better person. He’s a great football player, but he’s a better person.”

Gilroy trailed 14-10 going into the halftime break after Menlo answered a late Mustang score with a touchdown with 40 seconds left in the second quarter.

But the Mustangs have proven to be a second half team and they did it again to capture the title.

Gilroy outscored the Knights 28-7 in the second half and allowed just 113 yards of offense in that stretch.

The Mustangs’ defense was stellar the whole night.

Andrew Castro came away with three sacks, including two strip sacks that led to turnovers.

Alex Felix—the third CCS wrestling champion on the team—had a sack.

Christian Rodriguez had an interception and tipped the ball in the air to set up a second pick.

Menlo was just 1-8 on third down and 1-2 on fourth down. Both of the conversions the Knights had came by way of Gilroy penalty.

Of Menlo’s three touchdowns, one came on short field that followed a fumble deep in Mustang territory. The other two came when Menlo was able to strike quickly against the Gilroy defense.

Gilroy took a 3-0 lead after settling for a field goal following a Castro forced fumble and an Andrade recovery.

Andrade had two fumble recoveries on the night.

“Honestly I just went out there and wanted to give it my all,” Andrade said. “That’s all I did was give it my all.”

Menlo answered following a Gilroy fumble that took two plays capped with Simbeck hitting Aidan Israelski on a nine-yard shovel pass for a 7-3 lead after the first quarter.

Both defenses played tough until late in the second when Gilroy drove 82 yards on nine plays helped along by a devastating personal foul penalty on the Menlo sideline that turned what would have been a fourth and 1 into a first down from the Knights 9.

Barnes needed three plays to go the nine yards, scoring from one yard out for a 10-7 lead.

But Menlo didn’t stay down for long.

Simbeck orchestrated a four-play 67-yard drive that needed less than a minute for a TD. Simbeck hit Landon Smith on a nine-yard pass for a 14-10 lead.

Gilroy came out in the second half fighting. Its first drive of the third quarter featured a 62-yard drive with Barnes scoring from two yards out for a 17-14 lead.

Gilroy never surrendered the lead from that point.

Barnes later scored from three yards out 4 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 24-14 lead.

Then with 4:04 left to play, Barnes broke the first of his two biggest runs of the night, going for 41 yards and a 31-14 lead.

Just when that appeared to put the game on ice, Menlo proved it wouldn’t go down quietly, going 52 yards on four plays with Simbeck punching the ball in from one yard out.

But just when the Knights were feeling good, Barnes broke a 50-yard run for a 38-21 lead and that proved to be the back breaker.

Soares scored the interception and Gilroy celebrated.

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