Depending on one’s point of view, those around the San Benito High football team perhaps breathed a sigh of relief or were disappointed when the Central Coast Section playoff brackets came out on Nov. 7.
The Haybalers (8-1) were either going to be the No. 8 seed in the elite Division I field and would have the monumental task of playing St. Francis—one of the top teams in California—or be slotted down to the top seed in Division II and be the favorite to take home the championship.
They’ll face the latter situation and play host to No. 8 seed Burlingame (8-2) in a Division II home opener on Friday.
“It is a matter of a tenth of a point whether Aptos or us goes to Division I,” Balers coach Bryan Smith said after the team’s 50-14 win over Seaside in the regular-season finale on Nov. 4. “We will take whoever we get. If you are the eighth seed in Division I, it is an extremely tall task.”
Indeed, it will be Aptos—and not San Benito—that will have to face the St. Francis juggernaut, which snapped De La Salle’s historic win streak against Northern California teams earlier this season and throttled a powerhouse Serra-San Mateo squad that annually competes for State Bowl Championships.
So, while there were assuredly some around the program who would’ve wanted the chance to knock off the very best, others probably delighted in being placed in a division where it has a much greater chance of the program winning a CCS title for the first time since 2014. Meanwhile, San Benito’s game against Seaside went as expected.
Even though the Spartans finished 2-6 in league play, they beat Alisal and Monte Vista Christian, teams the Balers easily handled this season.
“I knew our guys were going to play hard because we preached all week that we were going to be playing against a good football team,” Smith said. “Seaside, to us, had improved over the last three or four games, and we thought it would be a very competitive game.”
The lopsided score indicated otherwise. Things got off to an inauspicious start for Seaside, which showed up five minutes late for the coin toss. The Balers led 21-7 after the first quarter and 31-14 at halftime. Tyler Pacheco connected with Jayden Freidt for a 75-yard TD in the second quarter, part of a huge night for the signal-caller. Freidt also had an interception and pass breakup.
Pacheco rushed for 193 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries while completing 5-of-10 passes for 187 yards and two TDs. The senior totaled 380 all-purpose yards and six TDs—a staggering haul. Tailback Ashton Buzzetta had 92 yards on just five carries.
Standout lineman Khader Yasin was effusive in his praise for Pacheco.
“Tyler Pacheco is the best quarterback I’ve ever played with and I think we are ready for the playoffs now,” he said. “We’ve got to improve everything; to beat the best you have to be the best. But I am expecting us to win, win it all.”
For all intents and purposes, it was Pacheco’s night as he ran with authority and often found the open field on keepers, something the team has been utilizing all season.
“I just go out there and try to do my thing,” he said. “I am just trying to get wins, but we are all doing it as a team.”
Smith commended some of the experienced players who have proven to be leaders and examples for others to follow.
“I appreciate the captains, Jayden Freidt and Mateo Reyes,” Smith said. “Tyler Pacheco has done an amazing job and Derek Sandoval, who is one of our three-year guys. They are all seniors and I am happy our seniors got as many games as they did.”
Smith was proud of the players for handling all the adversity of Covid and every other situation.
“We persevered through quite a bit,” Smith said, “like that first game that got halted at the half because of the air quality. We got a couple of games under our belt after that and we were really looking forward to the Aptos game, but we had a Covid issue and there was nothing we could do about it. We had about six or seven contacts with the individual who came down with Covid. But we went 8-1 in a really good season and I’m looking forward to the playoffs. We will play anyone and we will step up to the challenge.”