Football: Check, please! Clark making the right calls

The Balers defense wraps up the Los Gatos running back in a 21-14 win Friday night.

San Benito High quarterback R.J. Clark has earned the right to check down plays at the line of scrimmage. In last week’s 21-14 win over Los Gatos, the senior signal-caller made 35 check downs, often with great results.
With offensive coordinator Bryan Smith home with pneumonia, San Benito assistant coach Bob Rawles was up in the announcer’s booth to signal offensive plays to the sideline, which was then relayed to Clark.
Clark would then look at his wristband, see the options and decide on a play call. Ever since Clark took over the starting QB role at the beginning of his junior season, the left-hander has improved his decision-making process before the snap and during the field of play.
Against Los Gatos, Clark was just 1-of-4 passing for 9 yards. Then again, Clark also rushed for 94 yards on 12 carries, including a highlight-reel 29-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that saw him shed several would-be Los Gatos tacklers en route to the end zone.
“I felt like I was slippery today,” Clark said after the game. “I felt three hands on me, but somehow I managed to get away.”
Clark actually was supposed to hand the ball off to fullback Hunter Nye (110 yards on 15 carries), who had another monster game. But Clark positioned himself the wrong way and the handoff didn’t materialize. Realizing he had made a mistake, Clark took off down the gut of the Los Gatos defense.
At the Wildcats 25-yard line, Clark shook free of a couple of Los Gatos defenders on his way to the end zone. The play displayed Clark’s athleticism, elusiveness and refusal to go down.
“I spun out (under center) and I took too long (trying to make the handoff),” Clark said. “I messed up and knew I had to do something with it, so I started running and was glad there was room to run.”
San Benito’s defense also got in on the scoring action, as linebacker Ely Sernas returned a fumble 25 yards for a score to give the Balers a 14-7 lead with a minute left in the third quarter. Sernas also delivered the hit of the game midway through the first quarter, when he leveled a Los Gatos receiver to force an incompletion.
As soon as Sernas delivered the hit, the San Benito sideline erupted. Sernas was pretty pumped about the hit, but nothing could beat his foray into the end zone. Clark and Sernas are good friends, and Clark couldn’t wait for Sernas to get back to the sideline so he could congratulate him.
“Ely is one of my best friends, and he always talks about wanting to take one back for a touchdown,” Clark said. “This was his time.”
Los Gatos had its way with San Benito in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but the Balers turned the tables in their latest meeting.
“It feels great to beat a good team like that,” Sernas said. “Last year they smashed us, so this was our redemption. We came out hungry, fighting and more prepared.”
The Balers (3-0) are off to their best start since 2009, when they won their first eight games of the season en route to a 10-3 record. They face Wilcox of Santa Clara on Friday at 7:30 p.m., another formidable foe from the always tough Santa Clara Valley De Anza Division.
Wilcox (2-0) has looked strong in the early going, opening the season with a 56-14 win over Branham and a 52-6 shellacking of Pioneer. Clark and Sernas both know the team has to maintain its edge to keep on improving.
“Wilcox is big and strong,” Clark said. “Los Gatos is a creature and we know that, but Wilcox is different and will pose a lot of challenges.”
Under 23rd-year coach Chris Cameron, the Balers have been known for their conditioning and toughness. Those traits were on full display against Los Gatos, as San Benito got stronger as the game went along. After being held to just 71 yards of total offense in the first half, the Balers outgained the Wildcats 206-57 in the third and fourth quarters.
San Benito didn’t commit a single turnover, while Los Gatos had three. The Balers will have some additional players coming back in the next few weeks, so they could conceivably be stronger in the next month. That’s a scary thought for upcoming San Benito opponents, as the Balers are playing at a relatively high level early in the season.
Speaking of playing at a high level, Nye has been running strong since the season started. Nye’s 50-yard TD run accounted for the game-winning score with 4 minutes, 45 seconds remaining. Once Nye got past the line of scrimmage, he shed two would-be Los Gatos tacklers at the Wildcats 25-yard line en route to the end zone.
Nye wouldn’t be denied, and he rarely goes down on first contact. Balers defensive back Tanner Okerson also displayed toughness and resiliency, as he suffered a dislocated left ring finger midway through the second quarter. After Dr. Peter Coelho worked on the injury, Okerson was back on the field, ready to wreak havoc.

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