First, the good news: the Hollister High football team will play a Central Coast Section Division III playoff quarterfinal game at Burlingame High on Nov. 11 at 7pm.
Now, the tougher pill to swallow: the Haybalers were throttled again against a top-tier Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division team, this time to Aptos High, 41-22 on Nov. 4 in the regular-season finale.
“[We] could never really get going,” Haybalers coach Bryan Smith said. “You gotta finish plays, you got to stay on blocks longer, you got to have a greater passion and will to drive them off the ball…We were very soft in the first half, and that’s not like us.”
As a testament to this, Hollister accumulated 75 yards of offense on six drives in the first half, amounting to 2.4 yards per play. In addition, half of the Balers’ drives were three-and-outs. By halftime, Hollister had just two points which came from a safety.
“Half of us were doing our job, half of us wasn’t. We were taking plays off,” said senior Isaiha Molina, who contributed on offense, defense and special teams. “Overall, we did not come as a team…We had two great weeks of practice, and we just came in heads over [heels].”
Defensively, Hollister fared slightly better in the first half, holding an Aptos offense that was averaging 28.6 in the first half to 14 points. However, the Mariners’ versatile rushing attack still gained 95 yards spread across five players. All of Aptos’ offensive TDs came via runs, one for each of the five players.
Hollister’s secondary did a nice job of shutting down Aptos’ pass game, limiting the Mariners to 4-of-8 passing for 42 yards.
“Our defense got off the field two or three times in the first half, that’s what you want, that’s what you are looking for,” Smith said.
Hollister started to finally get things going in the second half. Throughout the third and fourth quarters, the Balers had no three-and-outs as quarterback Abel Galindo would convert on two crucial third downs, completing two passes for 59 of his 114 passing yards on the night.
Most significantly, the Balers’ run game got back into its usual rhythm. Junior Brayden Watkins, who has stepped into the starting running back role, took off for a spree of long runs to give the Haybalers their first TD and a glimpse of hope at 28-9.
Watkins, who finished with a game-high 174 yards rushing, would go on to score a TD on two consecutive runs late in the fourth quarter, the first a 1-yard squeeze into the end zone and the second a silky 66-yard run to give Hollister a consolatory score to end the night.
“I feel like our linemen probably were staying on blocks a little longer,” Smith said. “We were getting off the ball [in the second half].”
Entering the playoffs on a loss is never easy, but the team knows what it has to do to keep its season alive.
“[We need to stay] together as a team,” Molina said. “Going into halftime, some kids already had their heads down thinking the game’s over. Everyone needs to have that fight in them until the last whistle until the last down. Coming into the playoffs, we’re gonna have a dog mentality.”
For Smith, it’s more simple: “We need to be hungrier, we need to play with more fire and more passion.”