Isaiha Molina caught a swing pass and proceeded to do what he does best: make a play.
The senior wide receiver burst down the left sideline, shed a tackle and juked a couple of defenders along the way en route to a 23-yard gain to the Wilcox 1-yard line, setting up a short Michael Reyes’ touchdown run with 26.2 seconds left until halftime.
That cut Hollister’s deficit to 21-7 and gave it a glimmer of hope entering the third quarter. Alas, despite stellar performances from players like Molina and Diego Villalpando—more on him later—the Haybalers ended up losing, 38-14, in a highly anticipated non-league contest on Aug. 1.
Wilcox was coming off an impressive 35-13 over Valley Christian in Week One, and entered this contest ranked No. 4 in the Central Coast Section by MaxPreps. And the Chargers certainly played to their lofty ranking, taking the game’s opening drive and marching 61 yards for a touchdown to give them a lead they would never relinquish.
“I give them credit,” Balers coach Bryan Smith said. “(Wilcox coach) Paul Rosa has always done a good job with Wilcox. It’s a great series, it’s competitive, they’ve got some big and nasty guys over there, and it’s kind of what we want going into league.”
After rushing for nearly 300 yards in a season-opening win over Oak Grove, Hollister was held to 103 yards on the ground against Wilcox. The Chargers controlled the line of scrimmage and hurt the Balers with some big plays, including a 71-yard punt return for a TD, a 54-yard passing TD and a 47-yard interception return for a score.
Good teams learn from losses, and that’s what Hollister plans on doing.
“It’s a tough loss but we’re going to bounce back from this adversity,” said Molina, who had a game-high eight receptions for 81 yards. “It starts Monday (Labor Day) with an early practice and we’re going to bring it. We’ll go home, watch some film, take notes, come back and get better.”
Despite putting on some muscle in the off-season, Molina enters every game as one of the smallest guys on the field. However, he plays a lot bigger than his size. Molina absorbs hits but also knows how to avoid the bigger hits that can take a player out of a game.
“I’m not the biggest guy on the field and I’ve known that for a long time, but I have the biggest heart and that shows on the field,” Molina said.
After a breakout 2021 season in which Molina led the team in receiving, he came back better than ever.
“(In the off-season) I went to some camps, did some 7 on 7s, worked with my quarterback, and hit the weight room,” he said. “Last year gave me a lot of confidence, but I want to use that to bring up my teammates. I have their back and they have mine, and we’re going to war each and every day.”
For all the above reasons, Smith has been effusive in his praise for the standout receiver.
“Isaiha is a stud,” Smith said. “He’s a leader on our team, he’s coaching our guys when he wasn’t in, and he played a tough game tonight. He caught some balls over the middle and we’ve got to find more ways to get him the ball, possibly in different looks in different formations and stuff.”
Molina and quarterback Abel Galindo have established a nice rapport. Galindo is in his first season as the starting signal-caller and despite throwing two interceptions—one of which was just a flat-out great play by Wilcox’s Frankie Tagoai—he managed to complete 16 of 27 passes for 139 yards.
Both of Galindo’s interceptions came in the second half when the team was trailing and had to pass more because of it, which isn’t Hollister’s game.
“Abel didn’t quit and I can appreciate that from him,” Smith said.
Neither did Villalpando, whose 42-yard run late in the game was as good as they come. Villalpando stiff-armed a would-be tackle, broke another tackle with his legs and displayed a determination that said he wasn’t going down.
“Diego is a guy who can give us a spark and so we need to analyze that and we need to take some time and see who that (running) back is who wants to carry the load,” Smith said.
Hollister’s defense had its moments, as Isaiah Aguayo forced an incompletion on the second play of the game with a nice hit. Then, early in the second quarter, Aguayo prevented a Wilcox touchdown with a leaping interception at the left end zone front pylon.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at email@example.com