Homecoming struggle

Chalk up the first-ever Tri-County Athletic League football game
at Mustang Stadium to experience.
GILROY – Chalk up the first-ever Tri-County Athletic League football game at Mustang Stadium to experience. The Salinas Cowboys, defending Central Coast Section II champions, had plenty of experience. The Gilroy Mustangs, with yet another key player out of the line-up, performed quietly on offense and counted on an improving defense to stem the tide of the Cowboys running game.

The result was to be expected, a 28-0 Salinas win that dropped coach Darren Yafai’s charges to 1-5. Four more Tri-County games await the Mustangs, including the always-intense Prune Bowl date with the visiting Hollister Haybalers Friday night.

As much as the Mustangs were out of the game against Salinas, Gilroy should be on even terms with the Balers. To be sure, Yafai may wait until Friday to check attendance records to insure that a full line-up will be available.

Talented (on the field) tailback J. L. Mangono’s decision to miss some classes Wednesday led to a swift decision by Yafai to obey the team rules and sit the senior out of practices and the game. Mangono is expected to return to the team for this week’s game.

“We tried our best,” Yafai said of the second straight shut-out loss. “We had a first-string tailback out for disciplinary reasons, our first quarterback (Ben Hemeon) got hurt, and we had some injuries on the offensive line. Each week, our defense plays tough. We’ve taken our lumps offensively.”

Hemeon was pulled from the game (except to punt) with 2:08 left in the second quarter when a sack left the junior was sore ribs.

“Ben hurt his ribs a couple of weeks ago,” Yafai said. “He’s been playing through it, but we reinjured it again.”

The Cowboys struck for 330 yards in total offense, all but 18 on the ground. Gilroy was limited to 41 rushing yards on 31 attempts, then 51 yards passing combined for Hemeon and Brian Collom.

“We’re starting to jell,” said Salinas coach Mark Ironside. “We finally played four quarters of football. We got our offense going a little, and the defense is keeping it up.”

The Cowboys, highlighted by the lightning-quick quarterback Andy Palacios, scored on two of their first three possessions to take a 14-0 lead into the intermission.

Salinas needed seven plays to cover 60 yards on its first possession. Palacios set the tempo with a first-pitch option keeper around the right side that resulted in a 24-yard gain. Six of his 13 carries for the game (betting 124 yards) covered at least 11 yards.

After Palacios responded with a 20-yard jaunt on the first third-down opportunity for the Cowboys, Christian Taylor gave the visitors a 7-0 lead when he high-stepped over left guard from one yard out and Francisco Araujo’s point-after came with 7:14 left in the quarter.

Gilroy forced four Salinas punts, including one in the first period that left Gilroy at its own 12 to start a drive. A fumble by Ben Amezquita was recovered by Salinas’ Robert Hocog in the backfield for a Cowboy first down at the 15.

Palacios slipped around left end for 11 yards on the final play of the quarter. Wingback Jordan Ventura took a Palacios quick-pitch and ran untouched to paydirt with 11:12 to play for the 14-0 cushion.

Palacios was at the controls for the third Salinas scoring drive. The Cowboys went 70 yards on eight plays. Palacios keying the action with a 32-yard romp into Gilroy territory. Taylor leaned through a hole at right tackle for a nine-yard scoring play with 7:23 left in the quarter.

Palacios was pulled from the game (except for punting) with 3:38 left in the third quarter when he suffered a leg cramp after a nine-yard run. Ryan Laughton quarterbacked the remainder of the game, scoring the final touchdown on a 25-yard option keeper around the right flank on the last play of the quarter.

Kyle Costa recorded the lone sack of Palacios, while Korey Gray recovered a Salinas fumble.

“Part of it is we’ve played two of the best defenses in the section,” said Yafai of the consecutive shut-outs. “”As a unit we were scrappy on defense.”

Gilroy was also hurt by the loss of starting corner Anthony Gonzalez due to a shoulder injury.

Yafai called Hemeon “questionable” for the Hollister game. The return to action of Mangono, instrumental in Gilroy’s 37-7 lead by the third quarter in last year’s Prune Bowl, Hemeon and Gonzalez could turn the Prune Bowl into another pick-’em affair. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Mustang Stadium.

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