Mustangs Look for a Repeat

The Gilroy Mustangs are hoping that lightning can strike twice
as they host Palma tonight.
Gilroy – On a momentous Friday night in Salinas almost exactly a year ago, Gilroy pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Mustang football history, the first-ever win over powerhouse Palma.

Last season, Gilroy beat the Chieftains 29-22 one week after falling to San Benito in the Prune Bowl.

It’s the same situation this year.

But it took a 300-plus-yard rushing game from Justin Sweeney and what Gilroy head coach Darren Yafai called “probably the most complete football game we’d had in years,” to get the job done. And tonight, it will take no less of a Herculean effort for the Mustangs (3-3, 0-1) to knock off a Palma team that’s even stronger this season.

“It’s going to take an amazing effort to pull one off,” Yafai said. “I still feel we’re a good football team. But we’ve fallen short.”

Last week, Palma, whose only loss this year was to De La Salle, crushed a solid Salinas team 48-19 in the league opener for both teams.

“It was kind of eye-opening to see Palma dismantle Salinas when I still feel Salinas is one of the best teams in area,” Yafai said. “I was kind of surprised. It shows just what Palma’s capable of.”

Anchoring Palma’s offense is senior quarterback Jordan Casas, a phenomenal athlete that the Palma coaching staff likes to see have the ball as often as possible. Casas has two huge targets in 6-foot-4, 210-pound receivers Michael Wilrodt and Orlando Johnson. Johnson is a transfer from North Salinas, where he was the starting quarterback last year.

“They’re loaded,” Yafai said.

In its favor, Gilroy has a handful of returnees from last year who know what kind of effort it will take to beat Palma.

“I don’t think the kids are scared of Palma,” Yafai said. “Last year, they were able to beat them and got over that mental wall.”

While Sweeney will get plenty of running chances as usual, the Mustangs might need to rely on him even more heavily because quarterback Nick Tovar won’t be playing. The senior was suspended for school and team disciplinary reasons, Yafai said. Senior Chris Velasco will step into the starting role for the first time this season in Tovar’s place.

Whatever happens tonight, one thing is for sure. Yafai does not want to see a repeat of what went down in the second half last week against San Benito. Gilroy lost its cool on several occasions and paid for it with penalties.

“Against Palma, win or lose, I think the most important thing is that we need to play hard all game and we need to play with class,” Yafai said. “It was a big disappointment last week when we got into the fourth quarter. We lost our composure and had a couple personal fouls.”

“That’s not going to happen again.”

Palma Chieftains (5-1, 1-0 TCAL) at Gilroy Mustangs (3-3, 0-1 TCAL)

Offense

For Palma, quarterback Jordan Casas has shown himself to be a well-rounded replacement to last year’s star Chad Bozzo. Casas has passed (492) and rushed (430) his way to over 900 yards of offense this season. Last week, he completed 8-of-8 passes against Salinas. Surrounding Casas are several other talented offensive producers including Orlando Johnson, Matt Perkins, Brendan Bartley and Michael Wilrodt. Gilroy’s got Justin Sweeney, who rushed for over 300 yards against the Chieftains last year. But he was held to just 78 yards against San Benito last week. EDGE: PALMA

Defense

Last week’s Prune Bowl wasn’t the Gilroy defense’s finest hour. The ‘Stangs D allowed 37 second-half points. Palma, meanwhile, has only given up 79 points this season, the most being 28 to De La Salle in a 28-21 loss in Week 4. EDGE: PALMA

Intangibles

Gilroy won’t win if the ‘Stangs can’t keep their heads in the game – for the whole game. It’s as simple as that. That said, after three disappointing losses in a row, including last week’s 50-20 Prune Bowl loss, Gilroy is likely fed up with losing. Not to mention very aware that playoff hopes are slowly beginning to fade. Gilroy’s chip on its shoulder could be the difference maker in the game. Also, don’t underestimate the power of having returning players on the Gilroy team who know what kind of effort it takes to beat a powerhouse like Palma.

EDGE: GILROY

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