Football can be known as a game of inches and it sure was Friday night at Andy Hardin Stadium in Hollister when longtime rival Palma High came into town.
After a see-saw battle during regulation, it was the Chieftains with a successful 2-point conversion by the narrowest of margins in overtime for a 31-30 victory over Hollister High in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division action Sept. 29.
“That was a pretty tough game,” said Hollister defensive back Vinny Vigilante. “We played pretty good. We had trouble containing their quarterback. We had some slip ups but we keep getting better.”
In the extra period, quarterback Abel Galindo scored on a 3-yard run for Hollister and Joey Fernandez kicked the extra point.
Palma responded on its possession with a 1-yard score from quarterback Thomas Nunes, who cut the deficit to one point at 30-29 and called timeout to discuss the extra point attempt.
“We came over to the sideline,” Nunes said. “Coach asked us if we wanted to go for two.”
They did, and it was all or nothing for the win.
“They called a sprintout,” Nunes said. “I could throw it if it was there but they had it covered. I saw green grass and I ran for it. When I scored, everyone went berserk.”
Nunes rolled out and dove for the end zone just as a Baler defender tackled him near the goal line. But he was able to reach the ball across the endline by inches for the conversion en route for the win.
Hollister was led by senior Brayden Watkins with 56 yards rushing and one touchdown on 13 carries, followed by Galindo with 34 yards on nine carries, Harold Lusk with 32 yards on four rushes and Elijah Huerta with 26 yards on 14 carries.
Galindo completed 7-of-10 pass attempts for 86 yards, including a 38-yard score to Savion Loza, who had 64 yards receiving on four catches.
Senior kicker Joey Fernandez made field goal attempts of 25, 38 and 46 yards, the third a clutch game-tying rocket with 1:44 remaining in the game.
The defeat dropped Hollister’s record to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in PCAL Gabilan Division play.
“It was a good game,” said Hollister coach Bryan Smith. “Great game. Exciting. Their QB made a great play over there at the end. Our offense played better and I’m proud of our guys. We stayed together. More action, less talking, better discipline.”
Palma was paced by Drew Molinari with 79 yards on 17 carries, Nunes with 70 yards on 10 rushes and freshman Eli Dukes with 67 yards on 10 carries.
Nunes completed 13-of-14 passes for 159 yards, with Notre Dame-bound Logan Saldate catching six for 100 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown.
Palma—notified last week to forfeit three wins due to an ineligible player—is now 1-5 overall and 1-2 in Gabilan Division play.
“They are a tough team to play against,” Nunes said. “There was great play on both sides of the ball. It’s all you can ask for. A hard-nosed football game.”
Hollister led throughout a solid first half. Fernandez drilled a field goal for the only score of the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, the Balers reached paydirt as Loza shook his defender with a hitch-and-go and then adjusted to the long pass to beat two defenders for the catch on a 38-yard scoring play, giving them a 10-0 lead.
Five plays later, Saldate broke open deep for a long scoring bomb from Nunes. Watkins extended the lead to 17-7 with a 10-yard jaunt on a pitch right.
Palma replied with a Nunes 16-yard scramble for a score.
Just before halftime, Fernandez converted his second field goal of the evening and the scoreboard read 20-14 as fans headed to the Baler Barn for food and drink.
After the break, Palma scored on a touchdown and a safety for a 23-20 lead. With their backs to the wall, the Balers held the fort.
Midway through the final stanza, Palma faced a fourth-and-5 situation at Hollister’s 24-yard line and went for it.
Hollister junior cornerback Toure Ajamu hit the receiver as the pass arrived, forcing the ball to bounce up and corralling it to end the threat.
A last-ditch Hollister drive, fueled by runs from Watkins and Huerta and a huge third-down conversion on a 10-yard Lusk carry, moved the ball to the Palma 29. Fernandez came through with the pressure kick to knot the score at 23 and set the stage for the alternating possession overtime.
A positive sign is that after a dry spell with just 12 points scored in two non-league losses, the Hollister attack has regrouped to score 23 regulation points in two consecutive games.
However, a narrow 26-23 defeat to Alvarez on Sept. 22 and last week’s overtime defeat to Palma leaves the Balers behind the eight-ball in league action with an 0-2 mark.
Hollister needs to rebound one step at a time, beginning with a road contest in Gabilan Division play at Monterey High on Oct. 7 at 2pm.
“Right now we just need to focus on game by game,” Smith said. “Game by game is super important.”