If there was one thing missing from the Hollister Haybalers football team in the first half of their Central Coast Section Division II home playoff game against Burlingame High on Nov. 12, it was the relentless energy the Balers had brought to the field in the majority of the games this season.
Trailing 14-0 at halftime, they showed little signs that they would end up on top. But win the Balers did, with Manuel Velazco’s 20-yard field goal in overtime accounting for the final points in a 31-28 victory.
Top-seed Hollister (9-1) plays host to No. 4 seed Menlo School of Atherton (11-0) on Friday at 7pm in the semifinals. The Knights won the Peninsula Athletic League’s B-league Ocean Division this season. But they have three wins over A-league teams this year, including a 47-28 whipping of PAL Bay Division champion Half Moon Bay in their playoff opener.
Burlingame, incidentally, finished second in the PAL’s A-league Bay Division. It was clear from the outset that Burlingame was going to give Hollister all it could handle. The No. 8 seed Panthers (8-3) took nearly 8 ½ minutes off the clock on one of their first couple of drives, going 76 yards in 14 plays to score a touchdown.
The Balers couldn’t generate much offensively in the first half, and Burlingame went into halftime with a 14-0 lead.
“At the start of the game, we came out flat,” said wide receiver/defensive back Isaiha Molina, who had a key interception in the second half. “Starting from our O-line to our receivers to our quarterback—everyone was down. During halftime, all of our captains and coaches said something, we said a little prayer, and then we just came out hungry. The coach has been talking about adversity and tonight showed how we could come up against it.”
Whatever was said worked, and the Balers hit the field for the third quarter recharged and ready. Tyler Pacheco threw a 25-yard completion to Mateo Reyes and another one for 24 yards to Molina, bringing the Balers to the 9-yard line. A quarterback keeper ended in a touchdown, and a pumped-up Pacheco made it clear the momentum of the game had passed to the home team.
“We came out and I wouldn’t say we weren’t ready, but they came out and they were working harder than us,” Pacheco said. “And we went into the locker room and basically said we don’t want this to be our last half of football, so we got the guys together and we really came together as a team and ended up getting the ‘W’.”
Said defensive lineman A.J. Flores: “We needed to flip a switch at halftime. They are a really good team, but we know how to control and dictate what we do. We had to stop playing on their level and play our kind of football.”
Hollister’s second TD came on a drive in which Pacheco connected with Molina and Ashton Buzzetta for big pass plays, and nice rushes by Buzzetta and Pacheco. The Panthers came back with a 79-yard touchdown and the Balers responded four plays into their ensuing possession with Pacheco hooking up with Molina again for a 67-yard TD, making it 21-21.
Not to be outdone, the Panthers responded with another TD drive and led 28-21 after three quarters of action. With two minutes left in the game, Hollister came up with a clutch drive, culminating on a third Pacheco TD to even things up once again.
Molina had a huge interception in the second half, and Billy Aviles had a key tackle for loss on Burlingame’s final drive in regulation as the Hollister defense held firm. Burlingame got the ball first in overtime but missed its field goal attempt. The Balers didn’t, as Velazco connected to cap an impressive and emotionally exhausting comeback victory.
“I knew I was going to make that once I stepped on the field,” Velazco said.
The Balers were determined to answer the bell in the second half.
“We weren’t going to lose,” Alex Valencia said. “We haven’t lost on our home field the whole year and we came to show you we were the No. 1 seed for a reason.”
Balers coach Bryan Smith gave Burlingame credit for taking it to Hollister at the start.
“They had a tremendous game plan,” Smith said. “They were shifting and motioning and out-manning us. They keyed Tyler and we knew that going forward he’s our guy and other teams are going to play to his strengths and his abilities.”
For this game, though, it seemed like halftime was the most critical part of the evening.
“We checked our guys,” Smith said. “To give credit where it is due, coach Tod Thatcher made some great adjustments at halftime. But we checked their character and asked, ‘Are we going to lose 35-0 or are we going to come out and scratch and claw and play good Baler football?’ And they did. I don’t think we are going to come out that flat again.”