Soledad Aztecs will travel to the undefeated Rancho San Juan Trailblazers on Friday to determine who will take over first place in the Cypress Division. (Jason Gallardo/Staff)

SOLEDAD — As the high school football season enters the final stretch, we have another game that could determine the Cypress Division; the undefeated Rancho San Juan Trailblazers will host the Soledad Aztecs on Friday.

Last week the Aztecs crushed Watsonville 40-0 on their homecoming, while the Trailblazers came back from behind to beat the King City Mustangs 34-28. Unfortunately, in the game against King City, Rancho San Juan star running back Peyton Hatten got hurt and did not play in the second half.

Friday, Oct. 7
Soledad Aztecs (5-1) vs. Rancho San Juan Trailblazers (6-0)
7:30 p.m. at Rancho San Juan High School

Soledad Aztecs

What We Know: After a 40-point win last week, the Aztecs once again showed a factor that can separate them and make them elite if the offense can keep that consistency. The most consistent part of the Aztecs has been their defense. Former Soledad head coach Eric Rodriguez’s defense has been why the Aztecs are off to a 5-1 record. In five of their six games, the defense has only allowed one team to score over 14 points; that was Soquel, who is currently tied for first in the Mission Division. Last game, the Aztecs went back to Dominic Chavez as their quarterback. It’s unclear if he will start on Friday or if they will start Ivan Salcido. Before Watsonville, the Aztec offense struggled against North Monterey County, as they only managed nine points on the win.

Players to Watch: Dominic Chavez had the best game of the season as quarterback last week, tossing two touchdown passes. Chavez will also play a big part on the defense. Jacobo Ruelas leads the team in sacks with six. Daniel Raso’s last game had five receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns.

Question: If this turns into a shootout, can Soledad keep up with Rancho? The Trailblazers have scored at least 34 points in each of their games. The Aztecs have only scored over 34 once.

Rancho San Juan Trailblazers

What We Know: After playing back-to-back close games, the Trailblazers have shown they can handle the pressure, and they don’t need to rely on one player. Quite frankly, regardless of a couple of missed calls last week, how the Trailblazers came back throwing the ball was a shocking factor many didn’t expect. If you look at the way the Trailblazers have won games, they have come back from behind in three games this season, and in their last two games, they entered the fourth quarter down by a touchdown. But for as good as the Trailblazers have been, their defense does give up a lot of points. In their first two league games, both teams scored, almost hitting the 30-point mark, and their defense has given up 20 points in four of their six games. Now to the Trailblazers’ credit, the defense had not allowed teams to score in the fourth quarter in four straight games.

Players to Watch: Peyton Hatten has 1,022 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. Nolan Tompkins threw for a season-high 126 yards and two touchdowns.

Question: If Hatten can’t play, can Rancho pull off another win? If you combine all the purpose yards of the player on Rancho beside Hatten, they account for 1,277 yards with 12 touchdowns. Hatten has 1,106 yards with 23 touchdowns.

What’s At Stake: The likelihood of the Cypress Division getting two playoff teams is highly unlikely. The only guaranteed path is to win the Cypress. The loser of this game might not be eliminated from winning the Cypress, but a loss will likely have you cheering for other schools.

Prediction (7-1): As we enter the season’s final stretch, what more can you ask for both schools to have a chance to win a banner. Both schools this season have pulled out games that they probably should have lost. Unfortunately, the magic will run out for at least one team. Last week, the Trailblazers made me look foolish as they handed me my first-season loss. With the uncertainty of Hatten playing for Rancho, that’s a significant loss that I don’t think the Trailblazers can make up for an entire game. If he does play, he will give Soledad a hard time. With that said, I believe Soledad will figure it out and win a close game — 24-21.

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Jason Gallardo is the sports reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers high school sports for South Monterey County.


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