SALINAS VALLEY — With the Gonzales Spartans trying to win back the Heritage Trophy from Soledad, Friday’s game all came down to one drive in the final minute that ended with the Aztecs’ James Lara pulling off the 19-14 win.
As the temperature gets colder inside Gene Martin Stadium in Soledad, it’s always a heated physical game when the Spartans and Aztecs meet up.
Last season the Aztecs won back the Heritage Trophy over an injured Spartans team that saw their starting quarterback Juan Pablo Acosta-Ayala sitting out. Soledad ended up beating Gonzales 28-12 and broke a two-game losing streak.
This year, Soledad started by running the ball on Gonzales’ defense. The Aztecs would go 80 yards, with starting quarterback Ivan Salcido ending up in the endzone on a botched handoff that he was able to catch in the air.
After struggling a week ago against King City, Gonzales’ running back Champ Flores needed a big game if the Spartans wanted to pull off the win. In the second quarter, Flores gave the Spartans the lead, 7-6, after breaking off a long run.
Flores has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of the four games this season.
As the second half closed, the Soledad offense would put together a drive to give them the lead back. Daniel Raso took a pitch and beat everyone with his speed to get into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the season. Soledad led at halftime, 13-7.
All season long, the Gonzales defense had given up 20-plus points in all four games this year, but in this game, the defense had their best performance so far.
In the third quarter, the Soledad offense was able to drive down to the Gonzales 3-yard line, and instead of kicking a field goal, the Aztecs went for it. Gonzales’ defense, however, stepped up and ended the Soledad drive to get the ball back.
Both offenses couldn’t find the end zone in the third quarter, so Soledad went into the fourth still leading, 13-7.
In the fourth quarter, the Gonzales offense had three turnovers, two fumbles and one interception. The second fumble set up Soledad deep in Spartans territory.
Following the fumble, Soledad scored what would be the most important touchdown of the game. The Aztecs turned to Jaiden Blanco on an end-round that gave him not only his first touchdown, but also extended Soledad’s lead, 19-7.
“I just didn’t want to get hit by the defensive end,” Blanco said. “When I saw the gap, I hit it and knew I got the touchdown.”
With the game almost in hand, the Spartans didn’t go away, as Acosta-Ayala found the end zone with 2:36 left in the game. Poor clock management on Soledad’s side led to Gonzales getting the ball back with just over a minute left.
As the Spartans got to the Soledad 30-yard line, Acosta-Ayala went down with an injury forcing him to come off for a play.
On the next play, the Aztecs’ Lara picked off the Spartans’ backup quarterback, ending the game and giving Soledad the win, 19-14, along with retaining the Heritage Trophy for the second straight year.
“I don’t remember the play, to be honest,” Lara said. “I just saw the ball and went after it.”
Both teams will begin league play this week. On Friday, Soledad will travel to North Monterey County, while Gonzales will play their first home game of the season when they host Harbor.