A nifty TD run by Tyler Pacheco was nullified by a penalty in Friday's season-opener. Photo by Robert Eliason.

San Benito High football coach Bryan Smith couldn’t help but be emotional after the Haybalers were notified that their game with host Santa Teresa was being called due to poor air quality—at halftime, no less. 

In a surreal scene, Friday’s season-opener was called at intermission with San Benito leading 10-0. East Side Union High School District administrators made the decision to pull the plug as the Air Quality Index (AQI) was hovering around 160 from the start of the contest and through halftime.

An AQI above 150 is considered unhealthy for all individuals. The Dixie and Caldor Fires along with five other fires in Northern California have blanketed many regions in the state with smoke, similar to what happened three years ago when the Camp Fire had the AQI in the Bay Area routinely above 150, which led to the postponement of dozens of high school sports events throughout the region. 

Smith didn’t know if the game would be resumed, if it would be considered a no contest, or if it would go down as a San Benito victory. What the longtime Balers’ coach did know was just when things finally started to feel normal—Santa Teresa’s football facility was humming with activity with fans now allowed back at full capacity—then this came along. 

“Obviously, you could see the smoke coming in,” Smith said. “I get it. It’s for the health of the kids and their district is on the line if something does happen, so I understand it. They have to be sensitive to that and they have to make the call. I understand the protocol. At the same time, it’s extremely frustrating, it’s emotional. These kids have been through so much. I just feel bad for the kids, man. We work too hard for this to happen.”

The Balers certainly looked like they were on their way to victory as they totaled 183 yards to the Saints’ 45 through the first two quarters. Tyler Pacheco completed 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown to Isaiha Molina, who finished with six receptions for 78 yards and had the Santa Teresa defense on its heels. 

Defensively, the Balers were equally impressive, setting the tone on the opening possession of the game when Mateo Reyes, Maliki Harrison and Asher Kearns all produced tackles for losses. Kearns had three tackles for losses and Harrison added an interception.

On the Saints’ final series just before halftime, Abraham Solorio had a sack and Billy Aviles a tackle for a loss. Manuel Velazco nailed a 27-yard field goal to get the Balers on the scoreboard with 6 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first quarter. 

Pacheco and Molina were connecting early and often, combining for the lone TD as Pacheco hit Molina on the right side before Molina made a couple of moves and reached the right pylon with 10:08 left until halftime. With everything that has gone on with Covid and all the adjustments the players and coaching staff have had to make in the last 18 months, they were set for a bit of normalcy this season. 

It didn’t happen. 

“It is what it is,” Smith said. “You just want to see your guys get a chance to play, get better, and now you don’t have that opportunity. We’ve got a big game next week (against Wilcox). Our guys are resilient, we’ll be strong, come back Monday and get after it.”

Khader Yasin (left) and Michael Curto help pave a path for Ashton Buzzeta in the first quarter of Friday’s game. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Balers junior Isaiha Molina had a huge game, finishing with six receptions for 78 yards – in just one half of play – before the game was called due to poor air quality. Photo by Robert Eliason.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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