Balers face off against Los Gatos

The San Benito High football team faces Los Gatos on Friday.

Coming off a bye week, the San Benito High football team faces a tough Los Gatos squad in what amounts to be an early season barometer of where the Haybalers stand in relation to the best programs in the Central Coast Section. Balers coach Bryan Smith said this year’s Los Gatos team fits the mold of traditional Wildcats squads: tough, physical and able to make big plays offensively. Los Gatos is coming off a 43-28 loss to Southern California powerhouse Corona del Mar of Newport Beach.

Smith said the outcome of Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Los Gatos is pretty straightforward.

“If we go 2 for 10, 3 for 10 on third-down conversions, I don’t see us faring well,” he said. “They’ve got an explosive offense, and it’s up to our offense to keep our defense off the field. It’s going to be a dogfight converting on third downs, and continuing to take care of the football. Getting some big plays in timely parts of the game is going to be critical. I think there will be opportunities for us to get some big plays, but we’ll need to execute almost flawlessly to make that happen.”

And just to emphasize his point, Smith added: “Keeping our defense off the field by converting on third down will be a big part of the game.”

After watching the game film of the Balers’ 28-21 season-opening win over Sacred Heart Prep two weeks ago, Smith confirmed what he already knew: That Eugene McBride (defensive line), Slade Wilson (quarterback), Danny Pasillas (offensive line), Blaze McShane (OL) and Giovanni Gionnatta (tight end) had standout performances.

“Every time I turned around, Gio had some defender on their back,” Smith said. “He played especially well. And I thought we did really well offensively in pass protection, and establishing the line of scrimmage. A lot of positives came out of this game.”

Smith also noted after a recent coaches’ staff meeting, they needed to put the defensive players in a better position to succeed.

“So we did a couple of things in practice to adjust our defense to match formations better to line up our guys to allow them to play faster,” Smith said.

The bye week came at an opportune time for left tackle Diego Ramirez and right tackle Aidan Pung, as both had suffered injuries either before or during the game. Despite the injuries to the offensive line, players like Mario Chavez came in and filled admirably.

“Our offensive line really stepped up,” running back Jonny Gonzalez said. “They had a lot of injuries, but we have confidence in whoever comes in. We know they’re ready to do the job because coach Cam (Chris Cameron) is going to have them all prepared.”

Gonzalez credited the line for springing him on a couple of big runs. He also credited the defense for setting the tone and making plays throughout.

“You had guys like Eugene McBride and Andrew Dalton getting a big push up front, and Robert Mendoza at safety making a lot of tackles,” Gonzalez said.

San Benito has beaten Los Gatos in each of the last two years, bragging rights that not many teams in the CCS can claim.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Gonzalez said.

Smith was able to watch film of the Wildcats game against Corono del Mar, courtesy of Austin Cascio, the former Balers standout who is now an assistant coach on the team. Cascio was headed to Southern California for the Labor Day weekend, and offered to take video of the game since he was going to be in the area.

Meanwhile, Smith and a couple of other assistants were at Valley Christian in San Jose to scout Wilcox, who the Balers play after the Los Gatos contest. Smith noticed Los Gatos wasn’t executing nearly as well in the fourth quarter as it did in the first half against Corona del Mar.

If it comes down to a battle of stamina, will and endurance, he’s hoping the Balers will be the fitter side. One thing is for certain: The Wildcats are every bit as tough and disciplined as any program in the section. Los Gatos coach Mark Krail said he was proud of his team’s effort against Corona del Mar, a former state champion and perennial powerhouse.

The Wildcats were within a TD with 3 minutes remaining.

“For us to basically go toe to toe on their field, there were a lot of positives to take out of that game,” he said.

This is the fifth straight year that San Benito and Los Gatos are playing, with the Wildcats winning in 2013 and 2014 and the Balers victorious the last two years. Krail would certainly love to keep playing the Balers every season.

“I sure hope we can continue to play these non-league games for sure,” he said. “There’s a physicality and style of play that San Benito brings to the field that we really admire and respect. We look forward to competing against them every year.”

Krail likened the Balers to being the Georgia Tech of the CCS, a run-oriented team that executes and runs its plays well.

“They’re not going to dazzle you with a variety of formations, but they have some deception in their run game,” Krail said. “And that makes them hard to defend. They’ll block things differently and will play action pass when you’re least expecting it. What they do, they do very well.”

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