Perhaps no team is happier to be done with Thursday night football games than Hollister High.
After opening the season with a win over Oak Grove, the Haybalers lost for the second week in a row on a Thursday, this time on Sept. 8 to Valley Christian, 12-6, at Andy Hardin Stadium. The Balers (1-2) have seven regular-season contests remaining, all on Friday nights.
The Bay Area-wide referee shortage means every team has to play a couple of times on a Thursday or Saturday—or both—as games need to be spread out three days a week. Hollister coach Bryan Smith said there’s no excuses to be made, but he’s happy the team can get into a regular routine.
“It’s been a long two weeks,” he said. “We went from a Saturday game to a Thursday game to another Thursday game, and you get three days of practice and it’s just not the same. It’s been a challenge, it’s been hard, and hopefully we can get back to our normal selves next week because we’ve got some things to get better at for sure.”
As the final score indicated, this game was dominated by the defenses. Hollister was limited to just 91 yards of total offense, which is the fewest for a single game in the last 10-15 years. The Balers’ inability to move the ball was most glaring on perhaps the key possession of the game.
Hollister had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line but had to settle for an Anthony Mendoza 21-yard field goal after three runs resulted in negative yardage. Mendoza also connected on a 35-yard field goal to tie the game at 6-6 with 5 minutes, 59 seconds remaining.
However, the Warriors scored on a 60-yard completion after their receiver out-jumped two Hollister defenders on the left seam around the Balers’ 40-yard line before having nothing but daylight to the end zone with 24.6 seconds left to account for the final margin.
Hollister’s last-ditch effort was denied when Abel Galindo’s Hail Mary pass was batted down in the end zone as time expired. Valley Christian, which was held in check offensively all game, came through when it counted the most, totaling 91 of its 200 yards of offense on its final drive.
“Coach (defensive coordinator Tod) Thatcher hit the nail on the head, that every play matters,” Smith said. “But the defense played their hearts out. We had multiple opportunities to score and just didn’t convert.”
Hollister’s defense was converging and flying to the ball throughout. Billy Aviles delivered a vicious blindside hit that knocked Valley Christian’s starting quarterback Jonathan Craft out of the game for several snaps.
Although Craft returned, he suffered another injury later in the game and was out for good by the end of the third quarter. Aviles also recovered a fumble at the Valley Christian 24-yard line that set up the team’s first points of the game.
Defensive linemen Alex Solorio, Chance Brown and Asher Kearns often got a big push up front, freeing up players like inside linebackers Alex Valencia and Maliki Harrison to make several tackles. Valencia, in particular, seemingly was everywhere.
Smith said he’s proud of how the senior backer has grown and developed.
“Alex has become more of a vocal leader,” Smith said. “He’s quick and loves the blitzes that coach Thatcher integrates and works on. He’s just really grown up and matured. Alex works hard, plays hard, practices hard.”
Gabriel Sanchez and Jacob Varnes also made some key plays that contributed to the team stuffing the Valley Christian running game. It was a nice rebound performance from the Hollister defense after Wilcox connected on some big plays in the teams’ Week Two contest.
In the last two games, the Balers have scored just 20 points and been held to two touchdowns. The struggles were particularly glaring against Valley Christian, as Hollister often had great field position in the third and fourth quarters.
Andrew De La Cruz returned the second-half kickoff 43 yards to set up the offense at the Warriors’ 33-yard line. However, a face-mask penalty followed by a mishandled snap resulted in a turnover. Hollister’s kicking game continued to shine, as Joseph Fernandez nailed some long punts and Mendoza produced the team’s only points.
Smith knows the team must improve in all phases of the game if it wants to reach its goals.
“This was a tough one, but guys are going to be better for it and we’ll be a better team for it,” Smith said.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org