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November 29, 2021

Balers lose shootout to Menlo School in CCS D2 playoff semifinals

When the San Benito High football team found out it was the top seed in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs, it knew it would have a prime opportunity to win the program’s first section title since the 2014 season.

It wasn’t meant to be. Despite a game effort, the Haybalers (9-2) lost a 45-35 shootout to No. 4 seed Menlo School (12-0) in a playoff semifinal on Nov. 19. San Benito had no answer for the Knights’ record-setting quarterback Sergio Beltran, whose 51 touchdown passes are a single-season CCS record. Beltran had a hand in all six Menlo TDs, throwing for three and rushing for three scores. 

There were seven lead changes in a game that might as well have been dubbed the shootout at the Baler Corral. Tyler Pacheco had a 58-yard TD pass to Isaiha Molina, and Michael Reyes rushed for a career-high three TDs for the Balers, who had the ball trailing 38-35 with three minutes remaining. 

However, they turned the ball over on downs at their 20-yard line, and Menlo scored an insurance touchdown with just under 20 seconds remaining to account for the final score. After a nail-biting overtime win over Burlingame High to open the playoffs, the Balers couldn’t keep up with the Knights. 

“It was a battle between two good teams and we came up short,” said Molina, a standout at receiver and defensive back. “It didn’t go our way, but it was still a great game.”

San Benito put up a nice defensive stand on Menlo’s second possession, which started on its 18-yard line and advanced to the San Benito 10. However, tackles by Ernesto Zamora, Vinny Vigilante and Mateo Reyes forced the Knights into a field goal. The Balers sprung back with four quick plays, culminating with Molina’s long TD catch. 

Pacheco connected with Molina for another big gain of 41 yards that set up the quarterback’s TD run to allow the Balers to retake the lead, 14-10. Molina also was huge defensively, as he produced an interception that prevented Menlo from driving in for another potential score. Alas, the Knights eventually took a 17-14 lead into halftime. 

The second half was pure fireworks, as the teams continued to trade the lead until Menlo gained the necessary separation in the final minutes. Molina displayed resiliency after getting hurt only to return a couple of series later in the second half.

“I got injured, but I went back in because I thought they needed me,” he said. “I just laid it out for my brothers next to me because I knew they would do the same.” 

Reyes had perhaps his best game of the season. He scored a pair of rushing TDs in the fourth quarter, each time rallying the Balers back to within striking distance or in the case of his final one, giving San Benito a 35-31 lead. However, Menlo scored the final 14 points to seal the outcome. 

Balers coach Bryan Smith was philosophical about the loss as the players milled around the field afterward. 

“We had three minutes to go ahead and we didn’t come back,” he said. “It’s a game in life, you are going to come across certain circumstances when you are not going to win. So you teach it like a life learning moment. You learn that defeat does not make you any different as a person.”

In the end, there were congratulatory remarks by the coaches delivered to heartbroken players. There were tears and condolences, and, for a few players, one final pilgrimage to the giant “H” in the middle of the field. As the athletes left the stadium, the coaches were there, ready with hugs and positive thoughts. 

“I am super proud of all of our guys,” Smith said. “This team is made up of great people who have worked extremely hard for a long time, all the way back to October 2020, just constantly going. Their will to keep going and to be out here and to be with each other really tells a lot about them and who they are as young men.”

The San Benito High defense laid out some big hits like this one, but ultimately could not stop Menlo’s offense in a Central Coast Section Division II playoff semifinal. The Balers ended the season at 9-2. Photo by Robert Eliason.

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