San Benito High dual-threat quarterback Tyler Pacheco was on the brink of orchestrating a come-from-behind victory against Salinas on Thursday night, scrambling away from defenders and doing everything he could to get them down field.
But, there just wasn’t enough gas left in the tank as the Haybalers were edged by Salinas, 17-14, on Sept. 30 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play.
“That’s a good football team,” Pacheco said. “We had a chance to win there in the end. It just hurts as a quarterback, you’re trying to lead your team to score and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
With the loss, the Balers drop to 3-1 in league play and 5-1 overall this season.
Pacheco completed 10-of-29 pass attempts for 166 yards and was sacked three times, including on their final possession of the game when he was taken down by Cowboys linebacker Nolan Sevier on fourth down.
Pacheco also had a team-high 28 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Senior running back Ashton Buzzetta scored the game’s first touchdown to give San Benito an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Balers were held to 227 yards of total offense.
“We didn’t execute on the offensive side of the ball,” San Benito coach Bryan Smith said. “Our defense played really, really well and there’s room to improve. Do you applaud them for their efforts? Absolutely.”
Smith said there’s some details in the spread offense that they haven’t been a part of, but they still need to improve within the coaching staff. He also mentioned the players have to start executing during critical times as well.
Salinas had its game against Alisal canceled last week after Covid-19 protocols stripped half its roster for six days.
On Tuesday, they had 25 players return from Covid-19 protocols and just two days to prepare for San Benito.
The Cowboys were still without five starters for Covid related concerns, forcing Salinas coach Steve Zenk to make adjustments to his lineup.
He moved senior linebacker Damian Morales to the tailback spot and he responded by rushing for a game-high 102 yards and a touchdown.
Junior quarterback Adam Shaffer completed 18-of-31 pass attempts for 223 yards and a touchdown to receiver Nyziah Hunter, who turned a short pass into a scramble for the 23-yard score just before halftime.
And despite the lack of offensive production by the Balers, they were still lined up with several chances to get back in the game thanks to an outstanding defensive effort.
The first break came in the third quarter when Shaffer fumbled on the Balers’ 15-yard line and Alex Valencia scooped up the loose ball for San Benito. However, they failed to capitalize on the turnover.
The Balers punted the ball three times in the third and mustered just 12 yards in those possessions.
San Benito finally woke up in the fourth after Pacheco put together a scoring drive that he capped off with a 12-yard run to tie it at 14-all with 11:51 left in the game.
“Our linemen played their hearts out today. Salinas, up front with those linebackers, they are so good,” he said. “Our linemen: Kyle Edwards, Karim Yasin, A.J. Flores, Khader Yasin, Michael Curto, they played so well but we still gotta get better.”
On the ensuing possession, the Balers’ defense came up with a huge stop by forcing the Cowboys to go three-and-out.
San Benito was on the verge of taking its first lead since the first quarter after they drove down to Salinas’ 25-yard line. Instead, they turned the ball over on downs and the Cowboys responded with a 33-yard field goal by Isaac Mancera for the go-ahead score that made it 17-14 with 2:55 in the fourth.
But, there was still just enough time for Pacheco to pull out any more magic tricks from the hat for a miracle comeback. He started with a 19-yard strike to Mateo Reyes, followed by another one to Reyes for 13 yards that put them at Salinas’ 45-yard line.
That’s as close as the Balers got as Pacheco threw three straight incompletions and was sacked on fourth down.
“Defense wins championships and when you play in a championship game you’re going to have great defense on both sides,” Zenk said. “When you’re tired, pass rushing is the hardest thing to do and our pass rushers were better in the last series than it was in the previous four.”
The Cowboys are now 23-1 in the Gabilan Division since Zenk took over as the head coach — with that one loss coming at ‘The Pit’ to San Benito in 2018.
The Balers are heading into a bye week and Smith said they’ll break down what they’ve done up to this point.
“We’ll self-scout ourselves and see what we did well, what we need to work on and we’ll get to work,” he said.
Pacheco said that Thursday night’s loss is going to leave a bitter taste in the mouth but they’ll regroup and focus on their next contest, which will be against rival Palma High at Andy Hardin Stadium on Oct. 15 at 7:30pm.
“Be hungry at practice, don’t get complacent and bring it into Palma Week, it’s always a big game for us,” Pacheco said. “Just bring that bad taste in our mouth and bring it to Palma.”