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October 1, 2023

Hollister High opens the season strong in grounding the Eagles

The scenes were jovial at the away end bleachers during Hollister’s season-opener against Oak Grove on Aug. 27 in San Jose, where the Haybalers claimed a scrappy yet dominating 28-0 victory.

Hollister relied heavily on its ground game to gain vital yards throughout, giving the ball to its running backs a whopping 27 times in the second half compared to just two pass attempts.

Standout senior Michael Reyes rammed his way to 150 yards on the night, amounting to over a third of Hollister’s total yards. In the process, Reyes also ran for three of the team’s four touchdowns, including a 5-yard rush consisting of sidestepping an overcommitted defender before diving through two more Oak Grove players into the end zone for a photo-finish score. 

“Michael Reyes is a hard runner—period,” Haybalers coach Bryan Smith said. 

However, Reyes was not the only running back who made an impact. Senior Andrew Delacruz picked up 77 yards over 12 carries. Delacruz also punched in a 1-yard touchdown run after a controversial no-touchdown call where he ran 19 yards down the left flank of the field before being pushed out of bounds with his outstretched hand holding the ball over the pylon. 

Junior Diego Villalpando led Hollister’s final drive of the game with five consecutive runs for a total of 22 yards.

While the running backs took care of the ball offensively, the defense played a substantial part in controlling the game when Hollister did not have possession. Oak Grove struggled to find any opening through the Hollister defensive line, yet the Eagles rushed the ball 19 times for a meager 26 yards. Hollister, unfazed by its opponent’s resolve, would go on to force the Eagles to punt six times.

In the air, the Balers pressured Oak Grove into just six completions on 19 attempts. This pressure forced two interceptions, including an acrobatic behind-the-head catch pulled down by senior Jayden Pritchett early in the third quarter and a simple snag by senior Isaiah Aguayo late in the second quarter. The receivers who did catch a pass were quickly swallowed up by the awaiting Balers’ secondary, resulting in just 53 passing yards by the final whistle.

“I thought our defense played good—really good,” Smith said. “And so they allowed us to get in rhythm offensively in the game.”

Despite triumphing, Hollister got off to an inauspicious start. Positioning trouble and confusion on play calls made for a disappointing first drive, which ended in an interception. 

“We’re probably going the wrong way or we’re not calling the play in from the sideline properly. And we have worked long and hard on all that,” Smith said. “And so just, you know, first game jitters, I’m gonna hold it to that.”

By the next drive, the Balers found their footing. Junior quarterback Abel Galindo combined stellar passing and running to engineer an 81-yard drive that culminated with a TD and 7-0 lead. Galindo, who was making the first start of his varsity career, finished 10-of-15 for 125 yards.

Hollister has no time to rest on its laurels as it has a short turnaround and plays at Wilcox High on Sept. 1. The Balers have had success over the years against Wilcox, including a thrilling 22-18 win over the Santa Clara school in last year’s matchup. 

However, it’s the Chargers who have achieved greater postseason success in the last 5-10 years. Last season, Wilcox reached the CIF State 2A final, where it lost by a field goal to Scripps Ranch of San Diego. 

The Chargers opened some eyes with a resounding 35-13 win over Valley Christian in their season-opener. Smith expects his team to improve going forward. 

“We’re gonna get ready for them immediately,” he said. “We got to get better. We’ve got to get a lot better. And that [is] the challenge to our players right now.”

Andrew Delacruz was a key cog in Hollister’s rushing attack that went off against Oak Grove. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
Diego Villalpando produced some tough runs in the fourth quarter of Hollister’s victory. Photo by Bryant Hammer.

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