Gilroy High quarterback Talan Warren is set to make his return to the Mustangs football team after he suffered a leg injury in the sesaon opener against Live Oak on Aug. 24. (Jonathan Natividad - Gilroy Dispatch)
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Gilroy High’s football team continues to learn in a hard but effective way through an extremely challenging preseason schedule in 2023. 

The Mustangs took in another tough lesson following a 59-15 loss to Carmel in non-league action Sept. 2.  

Despite the defeat, the game still featured a pick-six touchdown by Gilroy free safety Nathaniel Neander and major steps forward by the running game after halftime.

“In the preseason, we’re playing above our division,” said Gilroy coach Dillon Babb after their game against Carmel. “Today’s game, we showed a lot of improvement on offense. We really stepped it up in the second half. Our offensive line is firing off the ball. We got some positive yards. We’re nothing without our offensive line.”

The running attack’s improvement is based on linemen Evan Passama, Derek Orca II, Jimmy Friebel, Brian Penaloza and others, including Ryan-Luther Yazzie and Jayden Ortiz. 

On Saturday, Jaime Gonzalez picked up 38 of his 47 yards in the second half, while fellow teammate Juan Carlos Puga rumbled for 67 yards total, with 54 coming after halftime.

“Tyler Hodges really stepped it up,” Neander said. “And Juan Carlos Puga and Jacob Reynaga. We showed we could run the ball.”

The Mustangs opened the second half with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Gilroy moved the ball relentlessly, notching six first downs. Puga cashed in the possession with a 7-yard touchdown run.

“The rest of the season, we can keep improving,” Babb said. “We can move the ball. We can get our passing game going.”

Gilroy’s defense had its moments. They stymied a second-half drive by forcing incomplete passes, And there was the amazing opening play from scrimmage by Neander.

“They showed screen,” Neander said. “I was going free.”

Carmel quarterback Kaleb Herro did not locate the free safety. Neander stepped up to collect the interception and took off for the end zone. Moments later, Gilroy led courtesy of the pick six.

“I thought of it as track,” Neander said. “Track is my main sport. It felt amazing to start off the game that way. And get my teammates motivated.”

Live Oak (2-0) and Carmel (2-0) are not exactly the Kansas City Chiefs but both schools are far stronger than league opponents in the Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa – Foothill Division.

The Mustangs are improving and will be competitive later in the year when they face Independence, Piedmont Hills, Pioneer, Silver Creek and Branham, the defending league champion and Central Coast Section Division IV runner-up. 

Gilroy finished with a 4-6 overall record and placed fifth in the Santa Teresa – Foothill Division with a 1-4 record in league play in 2022. They also haven’t made a postseason appearance since winning the CCS D-V title in 2017. 

They will attempt to bounce back in a non-league home game with North Salinas (2-0), which is fresh off a 49-0 victory over Jefferson High. Kickoff is slated for Friday at 7:30pm. 

The Mustangs have bye week before closing their non-league schedule against cross-town rival Christopher (2-0) on Sept. 21 at 7:30pm, followed by a meeting with Sobrato (1-1) on Sept. 30 at 2:30pm. 

Babb also expects starting quarterback Talan Warren, who was injured in the season opener against Live Oak, to return this week. 

The offense will benefit from Warren’s return. He wore a walking boot at Carmel but was moving fairly easily. Warren possesses the team’s best passing arm and will bolster the Gilroy offense. 

The Mustangs’ attack also features the jet sweep with their speedy runners and a faked jet sweep, which entails misdirection as the quarterback then runs in the opposite direction.

“Our offense is creative,” Neander said. “We’re unpredictable and can confuse a defense. Today, when we started to have fun, we started moving the ball. Talan has a really good arm.  When we get him back, we’ll have the full offense going.”

The Mustangs begin BVAL Santa Teresa – Foothill Division play against Branham on Oct. 6 at 7:15pm.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Gilroy High football team’s head coach is Anthony Babb, which is incorrect. His correct name is Dillon Babb.

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