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December 4, 2022

Football Preview | Soledad to battle St. Francis for Cypress title

SOLEDAD — After an entire high school football season, it all comes down to one day for the Cypress Division title between the 8-1 (5-0) Soledad Aztecs and the 9-0 (5-0) St. Francis Sharks.

The path for these teams to get to this point has been very different.

St. Francis has been more dominant in their games this year. In their nine games, they have won by double digits in eight of them, and in five of those games, they have scored over 40 points.

For a good stretch of the season, the Shark defense was a huge factor, only giving up 16 points in their first six games, along with four shutouts. Now, as of late, the Shark offense has been consistent, but the defense has given 68 points in their last three games to Rancho San Juan, King City and Pacific Grove.

Soledad’s journey has been a bumpy ride. Through their first five games, some were wondering if this team would ever live up to their expectations. The Aztec offense wasn’t clicking, and one could see the confusion among the players and coaching staff.

Since they put Dominic Chavez at quarterback, their offense has taken off. Since the Watsonville game, the Aztec offense has scored over 30 points three times in their last four games, and if it weren’t for the injury to Chavez in the first half of the Rancho game, they would have been on pace to score about 30 points.

If there were a top assistant coach award, former Soledad head coach Eric Rodriguez would be the front-runner. This year Soledad’s defense has played outstanding. All season the Aztec defense had kept them in-game, even when the offense struggled early. This year the defense is only giving up nine points a game.

Friday, Nov. 4
St. Francis Sharks (9-0) vs. Soledad Aztecs (8-1)
7:30 p.m. at Soledad High School

St. Francis Sharks

What We Know: The Sharks offensively are going to run the ball. They have three running backs that have over 200 carries this year. The Sharks will be a very run-heavy team, but their quarterback Kyle Dyer has only thrown for more than 150 yards passing three times this year. Dyer has had his best games toward the back end of the season, and his overall season numbers are 1,077 passing yards with 12 touchdowns.

Players to Watch: Running back Diego Wolfe is the player that can change the game. Wolfe has 18 touchdowns on 635 carries. Defense back Diego Ramirez has four interceptions and is also one of the Sharks’ top receivers.

Question: Other than being the last undefeated team in the PCAL, the Sharks are the only team not to trail in the game this year. So can the Sharks play from behind if the Aztecs jump to an early lead?

Soledad Aztecs

What We Know: Defense is the back of the teams, and offense, the running game, has been on point. As of late, we saw the Aztecs use backup quarterback Ivan Salcido more as a running back in the last game. Now going into Friday, you can expect the Aztecs to use all three of their running backs: Francisco Ballesteros, Daniel Raso and Salcido.

Players to Watch: Daniel Raso, who is one of the fastest players in the PCAL — just give him the ball and enjoy the show. Dominic Chavez has elevated this offense since returning to the quarterback and has been the backbone of the defense with five interceptions this year. Francisco Ballesteros this year has 490 yards rushing and leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns. Jacobo Ruelas is tied for first in sacks in the PCAL.

Question: If there is a weak point to the Aztec defense, they have been susceptible to the run. In three of the five closest games they played this year, they gave up 100 yards to the opponent’s running back. Can the Aztecs stop the run and force the Sharks to throw it more?

What’s at Stake: The winner will capture their first-ever Cypress title and secure a spot in the playoffs. The loser of this game has an excellent chance of making the playoffs, but it’s not a sure thing.

Prediction (9-2): According to some Soledad officials, they expect to have the biggest crowd for a sporting event in Soledad history. With a packed house and crowd feeding into the home team, the Sharks are going to play a Soledad team that’s going to take them out of their element and force them to beat them through the air. If you have never been to South County during October, bring a jacket and hand warmers. I’m riding with Soledad. The defense has been dominant all year, and I believe they finish what they started. Sharks keep it close in the first half, but Soledad wins — 31-14.

Jason Gallardo
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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