With a 6-0 lead at halftime, the San Benito football team seemed in control of Friday’s Monterey Bay League tilt with Salinas, but turnovers and inexperience derailed the Balers in the game’s final two quarters.
San Benito turned the ball over four times in the last 24 minutes to lose 26-6 to Salinas at Andy Hardin Stadium. The loss is the Balers first inside league place since November 2010.
It’s the Balers third-consecutive game with at least three turnovers.
“We have to do a better job of hanging onto the football,” head coach Chris Cameron said. “We could never get into a rhythm. We kept giving them the ball.”
San Benito struggled to get its offense going all game, as Salinas gained nearly 300 yards of offense moving up and down the field on the Balers injury-depleted defense.
In the first half, that was fine for the Balers, who held Salinas without a point, but in the second half missed-tackles and missed assignments proved too costly.
“We had a lot of young guys out there,” Cameron said. “They are learning. They made mistakes. That’s stuff we are going to need to work on.”
In the first half, the Baler defense used a bend but don’t break mentality to hold the Cowboys to no points despite all three Cowboy drives entering San Benito territory. Each time the Cowboys crossed the 50-yard line, San Benito put more pressure on the quarterback and forced Salinas’ errors, including an interception deep in San Benito territory. The Cowboys also missed a pair of first-half field goal attempts.
The Balers’ offense, though, took advantage of a Cowboy mistake early in the second quarter.
Using a strong rushing attack behind Zak Hicks and Damien Botelho, the Balers drove 78 yards on 17 plays for the game’s first points. Botleho, who rushed for 27 yards on the drive, ran in the Balers only touchdowns on a six-yard draw play.
It was the first and only time San Benito would get inside the Salinas 10-yard line.
In the second half, San Benito couldn’t find any momentum, struggling to find success on a constant basis. After gaining 10 first downs in the opening half, San Benito could only muster five in the final two quarters. When they did start to move forward, turnovers quickly followed.
After starting with good field position to open the third quarter, the Balers coughed up the ball on their fourth play from scrimmage at the 47-yard line.
Two drives later, a bad snap on a punt gave Salinas the ball inside San Benito territory.
The Cowboys scored three plays later when Julian Wilcox and Ball Everett combined for the next 47 yards, highlighted by Everett’s 20-yard touchdown run.
San Benito could never slow down Everett, who finished with 147 yards and one touchdown, and Wilox, who finished with 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Salinas finished with three rushing touchdowns from three players.
With the lead, Salinas never looked back, scoring a minute later after a fumble by David Stanton at the 22-yard line. By the end of the third quarter, San Benito trailed 13-6.
Salinas scored two more touchdowns in the final quarter, including a 99-yard touchdown return from Elijah Kirkland in the final minute of play. Behind Stanton, San Benito moved inside the 10-yard line down 19-6 before throwing the game-ending interception.
Overall, Stanton finished 8-for-14 for 87 yards. And on the ground, Hicks ran for 77 yards on nine carries. Botelho carried most of the load for San Benito, finishing with 64 yards on 13 carries.
But mistakes cost the Balers late in the game.
“Us seniors need to show these young guys what it is like to be Balers,” Cody Cameron said. “This wasn’t good enough.”
Because of injuries, San Benito started four sophomores on defense and had to shuffle though inexperienced players on both sides of the ball.
Some of those underclassmen played well, including cornerback Dominic Padilla, who picked off two Salinas passes.
In was invaluable experience for the team, Padilla said.
“It felt great being able to start for the first time,” he said. “I tried my hardest but we couldn’t get it done. Yeah, we lost but I think we are going to come out and (win).”
They should only get better with more experience, Cody Cameron said.
“We started lot of young guys and they really stepped up,” he said. “in the first half they really showed it. And we were playing really good defense. We just didn’t finish this game at all. They just ran it right up our guys. We just need to learn how to finish games. This was a tough loss.”
San Benito, now 2-3 overall and 0-1 inside the MBL, travel to Monterey next Friday for their second game in league play.