Winning ugly. Over the course of a football season, teams will endure games in which their performance is far from impressive. But in the end, they persevere to record a victory.
That was exactly the situation for Gilroy High as it edged Soledad High 21-20 on Oct. 8 in a Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission Division contest. The Mustangs (3-3 overall, 2-1 league) stayed in contention for a division championship and just as importantly improved to .500 past the halfway point of the season.
The last time this happened was in 2017, when Gilroy won its first Central Coast Section title.
“Gilroy hasn’t won three games in a very long time, so the guys have a lot to be proud of,” Mustangs coach Tim Pierleoni said. “I’m happy with how hard the guys played because we could’ve easily given up there at the end and given up that two-point conversion and lost the game.”
Indeed, after going up 21-0 early in the second quarter and seemingly on its way to winning via a blowout, Gilroy found itself in a precarious position at the end when the Aztecs scored a touchdown with 57.4 seconds remaining to cut their deficit to 21-20. Instead of attempting the point-after kick, Soledad decided to go for the win and the two-point conversion.
However, a pass into a crowded end zone was unsuccessful as a couple of Gilroy defenders aided in making the stop. Tysaiah Holmdahl broke up the pass, Chimezie Elias was there for the hit and Gilroy survived.
“A win’s a win’s a win,” Pierleoni said. “A lot of guys are still learning how to win after so many years of being defeated. They didn’t win at any level in the last four years. So we’re happy going away tonight a winner.”
Gilroy displayed its big-play capability on the opening possession of the game when Jadon Perkins connected with Tyrone Quarles for an electrifying 77-yard touchdown. Perkins hit Quarles on a screen pass, and great blocking downfield sprung the shifty Quarles down the right sideline en route to the end zone.
On its next series, the Mustangs went 50 yards on 10 plays, capped by Perkins’ 9-yard TD pass to Elias, making it 14-0 with 3:38 left in the first quarter. Gilroy didn’t score on its third series but did reach the Soledad 21-yard line. Holmdahl had a huge game, producing two interceptions, the first of which set up Gilroy’s third score of the game.
Perkins threw a perfect pass down the left sideline that hit Elias in stride, increasing the lead to 21-0 with 9:31 left until halftime. At that point, it looked as if the Mustangs were going to roll to victory. It didn’t happen. Instead, Soledad scored the final 20 points of the game to put itself in a position to win at the end.
Gilroy won despite being outgained in total offensive yardage, 350-282. The Mustangs had no answer once Aztecs quarterback Dominic Chavez was moved from receiver to quarterback early in the second quarter. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 299 yards, including TD throws of 47 and 49 yards.
Time and again, Chavez eluded the pass rush and made throws to open receivers who got by their Gilroy counterparts. Gilroy’s secondary broke down repeatedly once Soledad receivers caught the ball.
“We made some mistakes and it’s a tough way to learn lessons, but we came through in the end,” Pierleoni said.
Quarles rushed for 92 yards on 19 carries and Perkins was 6-of-13 for 146 yards.
Elijah Williams made a key play on Soledad’s penultimate possession. The Aztecs were driving and reached the Gilroy 19-yard line when Williams hit Chavez just as he released the ball, resulting in an underthrown ball that Holmdahl intercepted. Lineman Dylan Chirco was solid as usual and Marcques Anthony also brought pressure on the blitz.
Tyler Hodges was a force at linebacker. Pierleoni credited GHS Principal Greg Kapaku for changing the culture of the GHS sports teams.
“There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, and it’s because of Greg,” he said.