When the dust settled that night at San Jose City College, you could almost feel Hollister bursting with pride. You certainly could hear it.

After capping a game for the ages with a thrilling, last-minute drive, San Benito claimed the Central Coast Section Large School Division football championship in front of a delirious grandstand full of Haybaler red.

With their title, the ‘Balers secured a spot alongside the legions of outstanding sports accomplishments this town has seen over the years.

A look back at 2005 reveals Hollister’s athletes’ considerable prowess, in both individual and team sports.

Two former ‘Baler stars took their talents to prominent Division I programs and returned to the Bay Area winners with their new teams. While a standout runner from this year’s graduating class at San Benito has hopes of attaining similar collegiate success, Hollister’s resident professional boxer steeled herself for a promising 2006. Step back to applaud Kyle Sharp and Rose Vandenberg, Amanda Boyd and Kelsey Jeffries.

Hollister’s youth sports continued to shine, exemplified by the Pee Wee Vikings’ run all the way to the national championship game in Orlando and Southside School’s girls basketball dynasty, a feat cemented by the Bulldogs’ fourth consecutive undefeated season.

San Benito excelled nearly across the board, highlighted by the girls volleyball squad advancing to the NorCal semifinals on the strength of its 36 wins and the boys basketball team earning 25 victories and a CCS semifinal appearance. And the gridiron warriors upended archrival Gilroy in the Prune Bowl, keeping the trophy where it belongs with a 30-point humiliation.

But Hollister’s best sports moment of 2005 was clinched in the bitter cold of San Jose on Dec. 3.

Once San Benito quarterback Karson Klauer connected with tight end Art Esparza with 17 seconds left and the team’s defense held strong to turn out the lights on Oak Grove, the ‘Balers and their fans joined together in a memorable embrace of a team and its faithful backers.

As is so often the case with crowning athletic glory, San Benito’s title didn’t come easily. The months of preparation before the season’s first snap. The brutal early schedule that helped the ‘Balers build their championship resolve. The emotional victory over TCAL and CCS powerhouse Palma that let the team believe. And of course the resilience to overcome nemisis Oak Grove, the defending champion that denied San Benito in the teams’ three previous CCS meetings.

Despite racing to a two-touchdown lead at the half, San Benito saw the Eagles claw back to tie the game with just over a minute remaining. After title-game losses the previous two years, the ‘Balers would need to score on their final drive to avoid a co-championship with Oak Grove.

With the clock ticking down and the packed house on its feet, San Benito executed its two-minute offense to perfection. Klauer delivered, completing his four passes to three different receivers. But even at the game’s climactic moment, the ‘Balers needed to prove their mettle in the face of adversity.

Taking the snap with 28 seconds left, Klauer immediately found Oak Grove linebacker Ricky Valencia bearing down on him. Spinning away from Valencia’s grasp to avoid a disastrous sack, Klauer spotted his tight end rumbling past the Eagles’ secondary and lofted the ball into the end zone.

Once Esparza caught the 29-yard touchdown pass to vault San Benito to the 27-21 win, the explosion of joy from the sidelines and the grandstand provided a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for all involved.

“It felt like winning the lottery,” said Esparza of the thrilling culmination to the ‘Balers’ dream season.

San Benito head coach Chris Cameron was delighted that his team could share its accomplishment with the fans that have been there all along.

“The outpouring of the community … it’s been awesome,” said Cameron. “[Hollister] has a great sense of pride in the team. The enthusiasm and support of all these people is second to none. It’s something that’s pretty special.”

Hollister’s best of 2005? Hand it it to the ‘Balers and recognize them for what they are. Champions.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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