Balers, Giannotta look to halt Chargers

Balers tight end Gio Giannotta has been instrumental in springing the Balers' run game this season.

Gio Giannotta loves putting an opposing lineman or linebacker flat on their back. The senior tight end plays a vital role on the team, because the tight end position in the Haybalers run-oriented offense involves more blocking than receiving.

And that’s just fine with Giannotta, even though he would love nothing more than to haul in a throw from quarterback Slade Wilson.

“That is the best feeling ever,” he said. “But I know I have to improve my routes and catching percentage to get more balls thrown my way.”

Giannotta said the couple of passes he’s dropped this season serves as a motivator to improve daily.

“Individually and as a team, you can never be satisfied,” he said. “You always have to strive to be better.”

Giannotta had a 34-yard touchdown reception in the Balers’ 21-20 win over Los Gatos last week, a solid victory entering Friday’s road game against Wilcox of Santa Clara. Wilcox comes in with a 0-2 record, with both losses coming to strong teams in Monterey Trail of Elk Grove and Central Coast Section powerhouse Valley Christian.

Balers coach Bryan Smith said after the Los Gatos game that Wilcox will present plenty of challenges, its record notwithstanding.

“Wilcox runs the option, so we’ll have to play some sound and responsible defensive football,” he said. “We’ll have to make sure to take care of the quarterback, dive back and pitch back, so it’ll be a completely different game plan compared to Los Gatos.”

That’s because Los Gatos went to the air against San Benito, with Wildcats quarterback Robert Nelson completing 16 of 33 passes for 245 yards. San Benito controlled things in the first half, running out to a 14-0 lead before extending the advantage to 21-0 after Matt Ramon’s 21-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third quarter.

However, the Wildcats roared back for three unanswered TDs, the last with 5:23 remaining. Instead of going for the conventional point-after conversion, Los Gatos went for two. Nelson found an open player in the end zone, but the receiver dropped it in the end zone.

The Balers tried to put the game on ice on the ensuing drive, but their drive stalled when Jonny Gonzalez was stopped short on a fourth and four play from the Wildcats’ 22 yard line with 2:50 left. Los Gatos, which had only 87 yards at halftime but finished with 271 in the final two quarters, seemed prime to complete the comeback.

Nelson completed a 19-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage, marching Los Gatos to the 50-yard line with 1:50 left. But three consecutive incompletions—two throws that were off the mark and a dropped pass—preserved the San Benito victory.

Gonzalez rushed for 131 yards on 22 carries, both career-high marks, while Ramon (73 yards on nine carries) and Eric Green (10 rushes for 47 yards) also provided tough running, rarely going down on first contact.

“(Offensive line coach Chris Cameron) says it’s a game of inches, and the inches were in our favor this time,” Gonzalez said. “Another couple of inches and we could’ve lost. We felt like we out-conditioned them. It’s nice to get a win over a great, proud program, but we have to get better.”

Gonzalez busted off a spectacular 46-yard run midway through the second quarter, one in which he made a couple of nifty cuts en route to the left sideline.

“I had a great spring on the end block, cut inside and moved outside,” Gonzalez said. “I had no idea what I was going to do (in the open field), so I started going and gave it my best effort.”

Wilson had another solid game, committing no turnovers and completing two passes for 55 yards. He also made some good decisions on the option, and has evolved into a QB who knows his team and the offense.

“I have to give props to Slade Wilson because he’s come in and proved he can do the job,” Giannotta said.

Smith also praised Wilson’s play, noting the QB plays a critical role in reducing the team’s turnover count. San Benito has zero turnovers—that’s right, zero—turnovers in its first two games, something that hasn’t been done in a long time.

Smith said the team practices ball security drills for up to 10 minutes in every practice, and it’s obviously having a great effect this season.

“It’s paying off,” Smith said.

Smith also noted the play of the offensive line and linebacker Ethan King, who was seemingly around the ball throughout against Los Gatos.

“Our guys showed a lot of heart and a lot of fight,” Smith said. “I’m extremely proud of them for their effort.”

Giannotta is known as a max-effort type of player. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Giannotta spends most of his time blocking linebackers. But he also helps his tackles at times against defensive ends. Giannotta said blocking alongside teammates Aidan Pung, Nate Sanchez, Diego Ramirez, Blaze McShane and Daniel Pasillas has been a rewarding experience.

“We all want to do a great job together as a unit,” he said. “I think we’re really coming together as a team, and we want to continue that.”

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