FOOTBALL: Early turnovers stifle Christopher in loss to San Benito

San Benito's Damien Botelho hurdles into the endzone to score for the Balers during their game against Christopher.

It may not yet have the same pomp and circumstance as the Gilroy High-San Benito Prune Bowl, but don’t tell the Balers that Friday’s game against Christopher High wasn’t a rivalry.

In a 62-14 rout over Christopher, San Benito put an exclamation point on the first ever showdown between the two teams.

“It’s pretty much the Gilroy rivalry,” said San Benito fullback Damien Botelho, who ran for a pair of touchdowns. “We just think of Christopher as another Gilroy rival. We think of it like the Prune Bowl. That’s why we came out way harder and ran the ball harder like we are supposed to.”

Despite no trophy being awarded to the winner, the game was eerily similar to last week’s Prune Bowl, as San Benito jumped to an early lead and pulled away. San Benito dominated in all facets, outgaining the Cougars 364 to 159, while forcing four turnovers.

It was the first time San Benito (4-4 overall, 2-2 Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division) won back-to-back wins games all year after beating Gilroy last week. It’s Christopher’s (1-7 overall, 1-3 MBL Gabilan Division) third consecutive loss.

It was turnovers, though, that changed the game’s complexion. Late in the first quarter, San Benito forced three turnovers and scored 34 points in four minutes, turning a punting duel into a lopsided affair.

“Turnovers are going to kill you,” Christopher head coach Tim Pierleoni said. “That’s been our biggest problem all year and tonight that was our biggest problem again. We’ve just have got to not turn the ball over, especially in a game like that. Momentum and all that switches when that happens.”

Things looked promising for the Cougars at the game’s onset. On it’s first drive, Christopher went eight plays and started to push into San Benito territory before having to punt. It’s defense responded with a quick three-and-out.

But the game turned from there. Once the Balers received the ball back, they took two plays to take the lead.

On an option read, quarterback David Stanton busted up the middle of the Christopher defense to score on a 64-yard run play. Stanton was never touched, as he ran away from the defense.

Two drives later, San Benito scored again, taking advantage of Christopher offensive miscues. Needing four plays, the Balers took a 14-0 lead with less than two minutes left in the opening quarter.

Over the next seven plays, San Benito put the game out of reach.

On the ensuing Cougar drive, San Benito’s Cody Freitas stepped in front of a Sterling Montgomery pass, intercepted the ball and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

“I expected it to happen,” Freitas said. “I saw it developing and I jumped on it and I went from there. I was looking for it and it came and I got it.”

The Cougars’ next turnover came three players later when freshman Zach Almash fumbled the ball on the Christopher 40-yard line, handing the ball back to San Benito.

The Balers only needed one play to respond as Stanton hit Dominic Padilla on a seam pass to make it 27-0.

“That was just a simple seam pass,” SBHS head coach Chris Cameron said. “Their safety was jumping down so it was wide open. They can’t cover that pass when they do that.”

To make maters worse, on the next Christopher play from scrimmage, Freitas picked off Montgomery again and returned it 18 yards for another San Benito touchdown. By the end of the first quarter the score sat at 34-0.

“It was just bang, bang, bang,” Cameron said. “It just exploded. I think that closed the door on these guys. What was really nice about that is when that happens sometimes I worry about us gearing down and playing down and we didn’t. We kept working in the first half and getting good field position.”

For Christopher, it turned a close game into a difficult challenge.

“That was a big one,” Almash said. “That really killed us. If those turnovers didn’t happen we probably would have had a shot in this game. Definitely, these guys are a good team. It’s only going to make us better next week. I’ll see them three more times.”

The Balers continued to find success on the ground during the game’s final two quarters, rushing for 245 yards. Botelho carried the load for San Benito, rushing for 60 yards on 12 carries.

Stanton, the first year starter, added 95 yards on just four carries in the first half. Stanton also found success in the air, tossing a touchdown and 107 yards while going 6-for-9.

San Benito added two more touchdowns in the second quarter to build a 48-0 lead before Christopher’s Montgomery got the Cougars on the board in the half’s closing thee minutes.

On a fourth down play from the 6-yard line, Montgomery (9-for-18, 47 yards, one tounchdown and three interceptions) hit Rayshon Mills on a quick slant. The play gave the Cougars some life heading into halftime, but they would only add one more score.

Both teams shuffled in second-string players in the second half, and neither team turned the ball over in the final two quarters.

After the flurry of first-half turnovers, Christopher relied on Almash, who carried the ball 24 times for 93 yards. The freshman accounted for more than half of the Cougars total yards in the loss.

Regardless of the loss, Pierleoni believes his team is making the necessary steps to get better this year and the future, he said.

“Our deal is this, we are going to keep working hard,” he said. “We are going to get after it. We are very young and these kids are going to get better and better. We are going to go with our youngsters and these guys are going to carry us on not only this year but the next and the next.”

The Balers hope the momentum of the back-to-back wins will carry into the final weeks with a playoff berth on the line, Cameron said.

“This is the magical time of the season where you make it or break it,” he said. “I like coaching at this time of the season. We control our fate now. These last few weeks have given us confidence. We are having some fun. We have had better practices. They are fired up now. They can see things happening. We just have to keep pushing them to mature. It’s all about maturing.”

San Benito travels to Alvarez next Friday, while the Cougars host Monterey.