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December 3, 2022

Football | Soledad Aztecs head to playoffs after winning league

SOLEDAD — On fourth down in double overtime, St. Francis quarterback Kyle Dyer had a wide-open receiver, but at the last second Soledad’s Dominic Chavez was able to tip the ball away and give the Aztecs the ball back to win the Cypress Division and clinch a spot in the Central Coast Section playoffs.

Oftentimes, the beauty of a sporting event and what the magic of sports can do for a community is overlooked. Last Friday, the Soledad Aztecs hosted the St. Francis Sharks for the Cypress Division title, and the city of Soledad gathered at Gene Martin Stadium in their black shirts to support the team.

It was predicted that the Aztecs would have the biggest crowd they ever had for a sporting event. Once the crowd settled in, there was no empty seat, and many were standing along the fence line to view the game.

As for what the fans came to see was the Aztecs trying to clinch their first-ever Cypress title and a spot in the CCS playoffs.

Soledad entered the game 8-1, playing their best ball of the season. One of the main reasons for this was that their defense has been “lights out” this year, giving up fewer than nine points a game.

St. Francis came into the game undefeated and rolling offensively. 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. 

After an interception by the defense to start the game, the Shark offense went right to work as they drove down the field when Dyer found his wide receiver for a touchdown to give them the early lead.

The last time the Aztecs trailed in a game was back on Sept. 23 against North Monterey County.

Soledad had an undefeated league record of 6-0 and an overall record of 9-1, only losing their first game of the 2022-23 season to Soquel back on Aug. 26. (Jason Gallardo/Staff)

After the first drive, Soledad quarterback Dominic Chavez went beast mode. He saw the field clearly and wasn’t rushing his passes and finding the open receiver as they came out of their break. In the Soledad second offense series, Chavez got into the in-zone on a quarterback sneak to tie the game at 7.

Chavez finished the game going 14-21 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Through the game’s first three quarters, the Aztec defense couldn’t stop the Sharks’ offense on third and fourth down. With the first half already halfway done, the Shark offense was moving the ball down the field with ease. They topped off their second drive with a touchdown by wide receiver Christian Magana to give St. Francis a 14-7 lead. 

With plenty of time for Soledad to get a score, the Aztecs drove down to inside the Sharks’ 20-yard line. The drive ended with a field goal attempt because of back-to-back dropped passes and a penalty. The Aztecs missed the field goal and gave the ball back to the Sharks with just over a minute left in the first half. 

As half-time approached, the Sharks managed to drive down to the Aztecs’ 14-yard line with under 10 seconds. Dyer tossed it up to his receiver to give them a two-touchdown lead, but Soledad’s Jaiden Blanco picked it off to keep the score at 14-7 going into halftime. 

“We knew this was going to be a battle,” Soledad’s Daniel Raso said. “We didn’t let being down at halftime phase us. We knew we would come back and win.” 

Entering the game, St. Francis was the only team in the Pacific Coast Athletic League not to trail in a game this year. With the firepower they have on offense, fans could see why.

To start the second half, the Sharks’ offense was able to continue to move the ball down the field with no answer from the Aztec defense. The Sharks moved out from 21-7, knocking the air out of the crowd, and it felt that they would run away with the game. 

For the first time all season, the Aztec defense looked overwhelmed and out of sync after giving up more than 20 points. Raso, however, showed why he is one of the best to put on an Aztec uniform.

All game long, the Sharks’ defense would send two guys to Raso’s side of the field to keep the ball out of his hands. But the speedy Raso couldn’t be stopped, as Chavez found his cousin to put the Aztecs within seven as they entered the fourth quarter.

After that touchdown, the Aztec defense finally figured out how to stop the Shark offense. On the Sharks’ last four offensive positions, the Aztecs forced three turnovers on downs, including one right after a turnover that the Sharks couldn’t capitalize on. 

With just over six minutes, the Aztecs had one more chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. 

“The defense makes those big time stops, and that’s big,” Chavez said. “Without them, their offense could score. Our defense locked it up for us.”

Soledad drove down the field and, most importantly, drained the clock, so if they scored, the Sharks wouldn’t have enough time to get anything started on offense. 

With under a minute and the game on the line, Chavez rolled to his right, looking for a receiver — he found Raso. As he threw up to him, Raso jumped up in the air and came down with the ball to tie the game at 21 apiece, sending it into overtime. 

“It was so surreal,” Raso said. “I had to lay their for a second to take it all in.” 

Raso finished the game with nine receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns. 

Soledad Aztecs beat the St. Francis Sharks on Nov. 4 in double overtime, 34-28. Now heading to the CCS playoffs, the Aztecs will take on Live Oak High School on Friday at 7 p.m. (Jason Gallardo/Staff)

In high school football, the overtime rule is that both teams will have a chance to be on offense and defense, with the ball at the 10-yard line. The Aztecs won the coin toss and decided to go on defense first. 

The Sharks gave the ball to their lead running back Diego Wolfe for the touchdown, giving them the lead. Now, the Aztecs needed a score for the game to continue. 

At the end of the game, all the offense was going through Raso, so Head Coach Marc Villanueva dug into his bag of tricks. On an end round, Blanco got the ball, but he threw it back up to running back Adam Velarde, who saw very little time on offense this year, and scored, tying the game and sending it into double overtime.

St. Francis started the second overtime with the ball at the 10-yard line again. To win the game, Soledad had to stop the Shark offense from scoring, and right when Soledad needed their defense to come through, they did.

On fourth down, St. Francis had a wide-open receiver open, but at the last second, Chavez was able to tip the ball away and give the Aztecs the ball back with a chance to win it all.

Knowing all they need is a field goal to win, Soledad kept the ball on the ground and gave it to running back Francisco Ballesteros. Following a penalty that put the ball at the 4-yard line, Ballesteros got the ball again and blew his way into the endzone to complete the 14-point comeback, 34-28 — giving Soledad their first-ever Cypress Division league title. 

“Us Soledad kids, we are built to fight adversity,” Coach Villanueva said. “And that’s what we are. We are fighters.”

After clinching the league title, the Aztecs were guaranteed a spot in the CCS playoffs. The Aztecs were put in the Division III bracket as the No. 7 seed, and will take on the No. 2 seed, Live Oak High School, on Friday at 7 p.m.

If the Aztecs want to keep the magic, they must go on the road and face higher seeds. But the Aztecs have embraced being the underdog all this year. 

“We have been underdogs since the beginning of the season,” Chavez said. “We just accepted that role. We want that CCS title.”

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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