Balers enter league on a high note

Stevan Navarro does his best Superman pose in the win over Los Gatos. Photo by Robert Eliason.

If there ever was a must-win situation for Hollister High, it was last Friday’s game against Los Gatos High. The Haybalers entered the contest at 0-2, having been outscored 86-20 in the process. The Balers just didn’t get beat against Terra Nova and Wilcox—they got hammered.

“It was a must win game for us,” said Smith, whose team did just that, knocking off Los Gatos, 26-16. “If we go 0-3 into the bye (week), things can start falling apart really fast. The guys played for each other and we hadn’t quite seen that yet this season. They played for the success of their teammates and not for themselves.”

Hollister never trailed in beating Los Gatos for the fourth year in a row. Fullback Eric Green had touchdown runs of 21 and 1 yards, Izia Polanco converted field goals of 15 and 30 years, and Juan De Leon had a 11-yard rushing touchdown in the victory. It was a pivotal moment for the Balers, who are on a bye week before a huge Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division opener against a white-hot Aptos team on Sept. 21.

All signs point to Slade Wilson making his return under center against Aptos, although coach Bryan Smith said at the beginning of the week it’s too early to say. Sophomore backup quarterback Michael McShane had a breakout performance against Los Gatos, conducting the offense in such a way that the team’s tempo and cadence was on point.

“Michael played extremely well for us,” Smith said. “He got us out of bad plays and into good plays with checks at the line of scrimmage. He made I want to say 90 percent of his throws in terms of his accuracy. Now we didn’t catch every ball, but he did his job to put us in a position to have success. The guys responded and rallied behind him because they saw him taking control of the huddle.”

McShane came of age against Los Gatos, and not a moment too soon. One of the keys was simplifying things offensively and allowing the players to play as fast as possible, Smith said. Balers linebacker Albert Rodriguez was impressed with McShane’s performance.

“Michael is a tough guy and can take a hit from anybody,” Rodriguez said. “He took some big hits, but bounced back up before anyone else did. I love him at quarterback.”

Smith credited the linemen on both sides of the ball for controlling the line of scrimmage. Aidan Pung, Diego Ramirez and center Blaze McShane—Michael’s cousin—shined as did nose guard Ivan Benitez, defensive tackle Isaac Gonzalez and linebacker/defensive end Bryan Sanchez.

“Blaze McShane had his best game of the year and Ivan Benitez played much quicker and faster than he ever has,” Smith said. “Isaac Gonzales was stout at the point of attack and Bryan Sanchez—our Baler Backer—played extremely well. Jesus Toscano, Nate Sanchez and Joey Saldana finally came together and played good, tough and physical Haybaler football.”

Bryan Sanchez was third on the depth chart at the Baler Backer position; however, injuries to the starter and backup put Sanchez in the limelight, and he didn’t back down. Kenneth Roach proved to be another unsung hero, as he laid down two big hits that led to turnovers. The first came at the goal line in the second quarter for a touchback, and the second hit led to an Owen Branon interception with 3 minutes, 50 seconds remaining to seal the outcome.

Kristian Espinoza got the team off to a great start by returning the opening kickoff into Los Gatos territory. From there, it only took a couple of plays before Green’s 21-yard TD run. Green rushed for over 100 yards and was a downright menace for the Los Gatos defense.

“Eric Green was basically a bowling ball and getting into the second and third levels of the defense,” Smith said. “I can see him wearing on a defense, and the linebackers and secondary didn’t want to deal with him too much at the end. In the fourth quarter we rolled off a seven minute drive and in the third quarter we controlled the ball at the end for four minutes, and Eric Green was a big part of that.”

While the Hollister offense was able to ratchet up its tempo and cadence, the defense also was solid if not spectacular. The Balers gave up some runs but were able to make key stops consistently for the first time this season.

“I’m confident as long as we know our assignments we are good in our minds,” Rodriguez said. “We have the bodies, strength and size, and as long as we know our assignments, we’ll be a great defense. … We had a tough start to the first two games, but beating a Los Gatos team that is known to be pretty good boosts our confidence.”

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