If the San Benito High football team came to Don Christopher Stadium on Sept. 10 expecting to roll to victory, Christopher High had other ideas.
Though ranked 17 spots below the Haybalers in the Central Coast Section, the Cougars held their opponent down for most of the game, surrendering only one touchdown in the second quarter and almost managing a comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter before succumbing, 10-3.
The Balers were coming off a thrilling 22-18 win over Wilcox the previous week, while the Cougars lost a thriller to Live Oak.
“I think after beating Wilcox we came in with our heads too big,” Balers quarterback Tyler Pacheco said. “Christopher wanted it just as bad as we did and they showed it tonight. It was an eye opener for us to not come into a game too confident.”
San Benito committed its fair share of penalties, hurting them over the course of the game. The infractions included two facemask violations, a horsecollar and roughing the passer, costing the Balers both yardage and momentum at critical points in the game that they could ill afford.
“The penalty game definitely went against us,” Balers coach Bryan Smith said. “I think there were five or six dropped balls as well. We just have to work and continue to improve—you can’t do those kinds of things and win.”
Alex Valencia’s big hit for a sack on Cougars quarterback Spencer Gorgulho epitomized the tremendous defensive performance from both teams. Throughout the contest, Christopher demonstrated toughness and ferocious play on defense, sacking Pacheco on a couple of key third-down plays and making sure the standout San Benito signal-caller would not be totaling in excess of 300 all-purpose yards as he did against Wilcox.
“We watched the last two games and these guys were lighting up the scoreboard throwing deep balls,” Cougars coach Darren Yafai said. “That quarterback, he can run, he has a great arm, and that’s what worried us. We wanted to make him play a short game—he’s going to beat us, pick us apart, but not over the top. We said, ‘He’s been doing well; let’s see what we can take away.’”
While the Cougars did what they could to hold Pacheco back, running back Michael Reyes was a difference-maker and has come on strong the last couple of weeks. Reyes’ 34-yard run over right tackle set up the only touchdown of the game: Pacheco’s 3-yard pass to Mateo Reyes late in the second quarter.
It was a play that defied the odds. Pacheco took the snap out of the shotgun and faked a handoff only to see a hard-charging CHS defender coming his way. Pacheco deftly sidestepped the defender before scrambling to his right where another CHS player was coming his way. Pacheco threw a pass that landed in the hands of Mateo Reyes, but only after it went through the hands of teammate Paul Olivares in the right flat. Fortunately for the Balers, Olivares missed the ball entirely, allowing Reyes to make the catch near the right endline of the end zone.
Smith singled out Michael Reyes’ performance.
“Our entire defense flew to the ball, but Mikey Reyes really stood out offensively. He ran hard and played a heck of a game,” Smith said.
Reyes proved his value midway through the second quarter when things finally started to jell for the Balers. After a relentless drive that saw Pacheco carry the ball four times, it was Reyes who broke the 34-yard run to the 3-yard line.
“I did well out there, but it was because of the linemen,” Reyes said. “Pancakes (blocks) after pancakes after every run.”
The third quarter saw the same tough back and forth action with neither side giving ground. Christopher couldn’t take advantage of an Eric Argumnedo interception. San Benito later connected on a field goal to make it 10-0 after three quarters of action.
Yafai held out hope to the end, and one last drive by Christopher in the fourth quarter almost justified it.
“The whole game we were thinking we had a chance,” Yafai said. “We told them at halftime, ‘Guys, keep it close and give us a shot at the end.’”
The Cougars made one final push that came to a close on the 3-yard line where a field goal brought the score to the final outcome, 10-3.
“Our defense carried us—can’t thank them enough,” Pacheco said. “They played their hearts out tonight. Drew Speech, he gets burned on a double move and he hawks that guy down on the 3-yard line and we hold them to a field goal.”
Yafai tried to look at some positives in defeat.
“You can talk about a moral victory, that we took it to the end, but then we didn’t get a win,” he said. “But when you are in a close game, you at least want to have a chance. We are disappointed and a little ticked off that we could not find a way at the very end. Two weeks in a row we lost close ones that went down to the wire.”
Smith is happy to walk away with a victory but is taking a lesson from it as well.
“I give Christopher credit,” Smith said. “They came prepared and played hard. Our kids played hard, but we didn’t execute on offense the way we did last week. It’s tough when everything is measured out in inches. But that’s sports and that’s life. We had two highly competitive teams playing and we came out victorious tonight. Our guys should enjoy that, but there is a lot we need to get better at and we knew that going into the game.”