The Hollister High football team had just about everything lined up for a shot at bringing home its first Central Coast Section title in eight years.
However, the short bus ride to Rabobank Stadium and a much larger roster was not enough to overpower a Knights team that produced nearly 450 yards of offense.
The No. 5 seed Haybalers saw their season come to an end after a 42-6 loss to No. 3 Menlo School in the Division III championship in Salinas on Nov. 26.
“It was a great year and it was a great 12-plus years that I played football,” said senior Isaiha Molina. “[I’ll] forever love this sport, but it was a tough loss. They just came and outbeat us from the start.”
Molina provided a small spark for the Haybalers with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
But it was just one of the few highlights for Hollister, which was held to 119 yards of total offense and mustered just five first downs the entire evening.
“I looked at our sideline and a lot of heads were down,” he said. “I don’t give up until the last whistle and I had to show my teammates that no matter through adversity, you have to keep your head up high and just keep on playing.”
Hollister was forced to punt the ball on six possessions and the Knights’ defense forced junior quarterback Carlos Galvez to throw an interception in the third quarter.
Menlo capitalized on the turnover with a 30-yard touchdown run by Ty Richardson, who had a game-high 111 yards rushing on 14 carries and a pair of scores.
Menlo quarterback Jake Bianchi also had a spectacular night after completing 22-of-29 pass attempts for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a 1-yard rushing TD late in the third quarter.
Menlo won the program’s first-ever CCS championship after five previous title game appearances, including last year when it was pounded by Wilcox High in last year’s D-II title game.
“I knew this year I wasn’t going to let it happen again no matter where we’re at, or what division,” Bianchi said. “We knew we were going to do whatever we could to win a championship.”
Bianchi completed nearly half of his pass attempts to senior tight end Cort Halsey, including a 43-yard TD reception in the first quarter that set the tone for the Knights. Halsey had a game-high 152 yards on 10 receptions and the one TD.
“We’ve been riding since freshman year, with all of these guys,” Bianchi said. “Four years in the program, we built chemistry.”
Hollister’s defense managed to make a stop on fourth down that forced Menlo to turn the ball over on downs just before halftime. However, the Knights put together four straight scoring drives following their lone mishap of the night.
“They were just getting open, some of our players weren’t getting their pass routes, some of them weren’t covering their guys,” Molina said.
The Knights also controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, giving Bianchi time to pass and preventing the Balers from putting together a scoring drive of their own.
Hollister senior linebacker Alex Valencia commended Bianchi, who looked sharp in the pocket and scrambled when he needed to.
“Towards the end of the game we kind of got it going but it was too late then,” Valencia said. “Unfortunately we didn’t show up and bring our ‘A’ game, but we can’t live with regrets.”
A loss in any championship game will always sting, but Valencia said realizing he’ll never get to suit up again with his teammates is more painful.
“I’ve been playing with some of those guys since Pop Warner days,” he said. “That’s what hurts the most, is that you’ll never get to play with them again.”
Hollister finished with a 7-6 overall record and it went 3-3 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play behind tri-champions Aptos, Palma and Salinas.
Molina said they got off to a rocky start and nobody on the outside believed in them. But later down the season they started coming together as a group and built a strong bond.
“We’re a young team and our chemistry started to build towards the end of the season,” he said.
Valencia mentioned that despite losing starting quarterback Abel Galindo later in the season, they didn’t give up and it was the next man up.
“They really showed up, the next man, and I’m really proud of them and all the second string guys, they worked hard for us,” Valencia said. “The scout guys, they just gave us a great look and they got us here.”