Ray Waller tosses the ball back to the referee after scoring a touchdown in helping lead Gilroy High to a 27-14 win over Sobrato High in a non-league contest on Sept. 17. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Defense was the name of the game when the Gilroy and Sobrato football teams squared off on Sept. 17. Though the host Mustangs came away with a 27-14 win, the result was closer than the score indicated.

Gilroy’s defensive line was unstoppable, breaking through to rush senior quarterback Seth Hernstedt into completing just half of his passing attempts. Sobrato was soon forced to turn to the run game in search of yards. 

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they were driven into the ground instead of into the end zone; the Mustangs limited Sobrato to 45 yards rushing on 25 carries.

“They (defense) did a good job of stepping up and showing a bunch of heart,” Gilroy coach Tim Pierleoni said. “It’s a team effort.”

The Mustangs’ secondary also came to play. Perhaps the best defensive play of the night came in the third quarter when junior defensive back Eduardo Lazaro elevated to intercept an overthrown pass in the middle of the field; Lazaro then completed a 36-yard return down the right sideline before being brought down inside the Sobrato 20-yard line.

Four plays later, Gilroy’s Swiss Army knife, Chimezie Elias—who had 27 rushing yards and 39 passing yards, while also contributing on defense as a cornerback—sliced through the defense, getting pulled down only after he reached the end zone. The score gave Gilroy a 24-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. 

Sobrato matched its opponent’s intensity, holding Gilroy to just seven completions which amounted to 66 yards. This forced the Mustangs to turn to the ground game, similar to where they averaged a rather pedestrian 3.6 yards per rush on 38 carries. 

“The defensive line was controlling the line of scrimmage, for the most part, allowing our linebackers to go out and flow around,” Sobrato coach Joel Rueda said. 

This upfront pressure was at times suffocating, allowing the Bulldogs to capitalize on the countless muffed snaps Gilroy experienced. In fact, the Mustangs had 12 plays where they took negative yardage—including a 4-yard sack from sophomore linebacker George Costa on Gilroy’s opening drive—amounting to a whopping 49 yards of loss for the game. 

The Bulldogs would also make two vital red zone stops that forced the Mustangs to settle for field goals, both of which were converted by senior kicker Jeremiah Vlcek. 

Speaking of converting, Elias had one of the game’s top plays late in the opening quarter when he caught a Sobrato punt in stride and returned it 30 yards for a TD to level the score at 7-7.

GHS sophomore standout Ray Waller shined again, rushing for a game-high 107 yards and adding 37 receiving yards—tops among GHS players. His rushing performance was convincing enough for Pierleoni to give him the nod on a pivotal 4th-and-goal play during the third quarter.

“I was back and forth…I almost called a timeout before and thought about kicking it, but I felt at that point, our momentum was with us, and he [Waller] was a hot hand at that time…I just had a lot of confidence in that side of our line and him running the ball,” Pierleoni said.

This gut feeling paid off. Waller, behind a wall of left-side blockers, powered his way four yards down the middle to give Gilroy its first lead of the game at 17-14. 

Up until that point, Sobrato dominated the offensive side of the ball, utilizing sophomore receiver Luke Anderson for both of its touchdowns. Anderson finished with an impressive 134 receiving yards, and his first catch would account for over half of those yards. 

On a 3rd-and-9 play midway through the first quarter, Anderson ran a screen route from the left side of the field to the very center where he caught a Hernstedt throw in stride, untouched by any Gilroy defensive backs, who were seemingly caught off guard by the snag. This momentary stall allowed Anderson to accelerate past the Gilroy defenders, run 50 more yards down the right flank, and strut into the end zone to open up the scoring.

“On Monday (in practice), they came out laser focused, ready to go, and it showed in the first half. We were in a dog fight,” Rueda said. “I think we played a lot better than they expected us to play.”

Hernstedt—who completed nine throws for 167 yards—would find Anderson in the end zone for a second time in the dwindling minutes of the second quarter when he calmly stepped deep into the pocket to rifle a pass right down main street into Anderson’s waiting arms for a 22-yard go-ahead score.

Despite the loss, Rueda commended his players for their tenacity throughout the game: “Our boys played extremely, extremely hard…From everything I saw from the sideline, I saw our effort was off the charts.”

This work ethic will be vital for their next game at Live Oak, a team that defeated Gilroy at the beginning of the season. The Acorns will be going into Friday’s game well-rested coming off a bye week.

Meanwhile, Gilroy will have its bye week to gear up for its crosstown rivals Christopher on Sept. 30. The Cougars are currently riding high with a perfect 3-0 record after defeating San Mateo on Sept. 9. CHS can’t get caught looking ahead as it plays at an always tough Leigh team on Sept. 24.

Chimezie Elias throws a pass during the Mustangs’ 27-14 victory over Sobrato. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Eduardo Lazaro’s 3rd-quarter interception set up a Gilroy touchdown. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
The Mustangs’ Elijah Williams goes all out in tackling Sobrato quarterback Seth Hernstedt. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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