SOLEDAD — When the Soledad Aztecs met up with the Rancho San Juan Trailblazers in last Friday’s battle of undefeated Cypress Division teams, it was worth the price of admission.
Anyone following the Pacific Coast Athletic League closely knows that one of the top stories of this season has been the Trailblazers’ 6-0 start and their star running back Peyton Hatten. The week prior they came back from behind to beat the King City Mustangs to remain undefeated in the Cypress Division.
For the Aztecs, their tale of the tape has had its bumpy roads, but the defense has been on smooth roads all season. Soledad blew out Watsonville in their previous game to set up a showdown with Rancho, with the winner moving closer to claiming the division title.
Coming into Friday’s game, the Aztecs had two starting defensive linemen out, while Ivan Salcido had an injured thumb on his throwing hand.
The Trailblazers also had a significant injury; Hatten didn’t finish his last game after getting hurt and his status was unclear. Once the game time started, however, Hatten was a go, making Soledad’s defensive coordinator Eric Rodriguez excited.
“I’m happy (Hatten) is playing,” Rodriguez said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Soledad wanted to show that they were ready to stop Rancho’s running attack, so they won the toss and decided to defer to the second half, putting their defense unit up first. The Aztec defense came up big, forcing the Trailblazers to punt.
Now, it was time for the Aztec offense. In their previous game, Soledad had their best scoring of the season, and the offense continued that streak on their first drive with Dominic Chavez leading the way to put Soledad up 7-0 in the first.
After the Aztecs forced another punt, all the momentum and the air left the Aztec sideline when Chavez went down with an injury, and he wouldn’t return to the game.
After a 15-minute delay because of a field problem, Rancho took advantage of Soledad still trying to gather their head after the injury, and they cut the Aztecs’ 10-point lead down to three going into halftime.
Friday’s game wasn’t without its own controversial storyline, unfortunately, due to the number of flags thrown by the referees, leaving both teams’ coaching staff confused about calls. Because of all the delays and penalties, the football game started at 7:33 p.m. and didn’t end until 10:38 p.m.
In the second half, Soledad struggled for the most part, but they were able to put more points on the board when Salcido snuck into the endzone to give them a 17-7 lead. The defense also overcame being down three key players, only giving up one more score to the Trailblazers.
Coming into the game, Rancho was averaging 38 points a game. The Aztecs’ defense held them to only 14, the lowest points they scored all season.
Soledad beat the Trailblazers 17-14, moving them closer to claiming the Cypress league title.
“I think a big part of our defensive success is coach Eric,” said Soledad’s Daniel Raso. “Week in and week out, he prepares us for our opponents. We also got guys on defense who are physically hungry, so that helps too.”
Next, the Aztecs will play at home against Pacific Grove this Thursday night.