The Hollister High football team’s traditional dyed-blonde Central Coast Section locks were flowing in the winds of victory Nov. 11 when it took home a statement 37-7 victory over Burlingame High in the first round of the Division III playoffs.
The No. 5 seed Haybalers (6-5) advance to a semifinal game at top-seed Soquel (10-1) on Friday at 7pm. If they continue to run the ball like they did against Burlingame, the Balers are poised to capture the championship.
With a run-heavy game plan that intensified throughout the game, it was only appropriate that junior running back Brayden Watkins took the spotlight once again. Watkins, who amassed 151 rushing yards over 33 carries, was a workhorse from start to finish.
Though he would not break out for any particularly long touchdown runs, he pushed and prodded his way to vital yards. In fact, four of Hollister’s five TDs—two of which were converted by Watkins himself—would be set up by his runs.
Watkins said on the team’s run efficiency: “My line had a big part in it and my fullback, J.T. [Jaden Torres]. He’s been blocking really good and we’ve been working all week on our blocks after that Aptos performance.”
The Haybalers’ running performance the previous week against Aptos was less than ideal. The lack of ground productivity, as well as overall struggles, fueled Watkins and the rest of the team to improve for the playoffs.
“It definitely put a little fire under our butts going into the playoffs,” Watkins said. “We’re a winning program, and that’s how it’s always been, so we’ve got to bring the tradition back.”
Coach Bryan Smith would echo this message: “They didn’t want to have happen what happened to them last week, so we came out with a different fire and it showed on the field.”
Watkins’ running ability would become even more important late in the second quarter when junior quarterback Abel Galindo went down with a leg injury. The Balers ran the ball 19 consecutive run plays following Galindo’s departure, 14 of which would go to Watkins for a total of 67 yards.
Second-string junior quarterback Carlos Galvez remained unfazed in spite of the sudden call-up, completing two of his three passes for 29 yards while conceding no sacks, fumbles or interceptions. Though he was predominantly in charge of handing off the ball, Galvez would make the most of his three pass plays, completing his second pass attempt for a 26-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Ernesto Zamora.
“It felt like I belonged there,” Galvez said.
Hollister is likely to turn to Galvez again for their next game against Soquel, which won the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Mission Division. However, the junior is confident that he and the team are up for the challenge. When asked if he wanted to get more pass calls next game, Galvez said, “Of course.”
Despite being in different divisions, Hollister and Soquel have played three common opponents this season: Monterey, Palma and Santa Cruz. Both went 2-1 against those three foes, losing to Palma.
Hollister’s defense was rock-solid against an equally run-heavy Burlingame offense. Over 21 rush attempts, the Panthers accumulated just three yards. This would be in large part due to the Balers’ six sacks, which would amount to 28 yards of loss.
The Hollister secondary was just as suffocating, exemplified by Burlingame’s two completions on five pass attempts. In spite of the lockdown defense throughout the game, however, the Panthers did manage to score on an 85-yard pass after a coverage mishap in the third quarter.
Hollister even thrived on special teams. On the opening play of the second quarter, senior Alex Valencia would block a Burlingame punt. A few moments later, Valencia was on top of the ball in the end zone to give the Balers a 21-0 lead.
Junior punter and kicker Joey Fernandez—who is filling in for senior kicker Anthony Mendoza—was reliable throughout, converting four of five extra points while finishing off the night’s scoring with a 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
In anticipation of the Burlingame game, Smith posed the question: “Do we want to finish the year how we finished last week [against Aptos]…or are [we] going to come out and play with Baler pride?”
Against Burlingame, it was the latter.