SALINAS VALLEY — Soledad Aztecs are one win away from taking home their first-ever Cypress Division championship in football after they beat their South Monterey County rival, the King City Mustangs, 33-6, last Friday.
Earlier in the season, when Soledad lost on Aug. 26 to Soquel, who had just won the Mission Division, they knew that game was winnable, and they let it slip away. After that loss, the Aztecs were in the weight room at 5:30 a.m. Monday, preparing for a season that they knew could be special if they bought in.
“The buy-in by the kids has been the reason we’re succeeding,” said Soledad head coach Marc Villanueva. “We’re grateful that we are in the position we are in.”
Down to only two games left in the regular season, the Aztecs and the Mustangs renewed their rivalry on Oct. 28 after not playing since 2017, when King City won 24-17.
This time when the Aztecs and Mustangs met up, a lot was on the line for Soledad as they tried to stay tied for first place in the Cypress Division with St. Francis.
The path to the playoffs is simple: win the Cypress and you’re in. If the Aztecs were to lose a game, they would have a shot at getting an at-large bid, but if they have two losses, it’s time for basketball season.
From the Mustangs’ side, they came into Friday’s matchup suffering a loss to St. Francis. King City’s hopes of making the playoffs were slim going into the game; the best they could do was spoil the Aztecs’ perfect league record.
Coming into the game, if the Mustangs wanted to try to pull the upset, they would have to play a perfect game. Missing a couple of their seniors who contributed on both sides of the ball, the Mustangs’ depth got even shorter.
The good news was that the Mustangs had quarterback JJey Martinez, one of the top players in the Pacific Coast Athletic League. If they wanted a shot, Martinez had to create some magic.
To start the game, the Aztecs got the ball and were in control, moving down the field with a well-balanced run and pass. Soledad got into the red zone, but King City’s Adrian Garcia stopped their drive with an interception.
One could make the case that Soledad’s defense has played the best all year, and in this game, they showed why. Following the turnover, their defense got the ball back on a tipped ball that led to an interception.
A couple of plays later, the Aztecs capitalized on the turnover when running back Francisco Ballesteros found the end zone for his eighth rushing touchdown of the season, giving the Aztecs the 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, King City managed to stay in the game being down 7-0. With the defense getting two picks in the first half, the offense put together a drive that would have Isaac Benavides get his seventh rushing touchdown, but a missed extra point still had Soledad with a 7-6 lead.
The next wave of events changed the game in favor of the Aztecs. Following the kickoff after the Mustang touchdown, Soledad was unable to handle the ball and King City recovered it, setting themselves up with excellent field position.
King City got a chance to take the lead and flip all the momentum on their side, but the Soledad defense stopped them and forced a turnover in downs to keep the lead, 7-6.
With the momentum back on the Soledad side, the offense got back to work. Ballesteros got into the end zone for the second time; he went 63 yards on a screen pass from quarterback Dominic Chavez to give them a 14-6 lead.
The King City offense was able to move the ball on the Aztecs. However, the problem was when they entered the red zone, they could not get the ball into the endzone. In the game, King City was inside the Soledad 20-yard line six times and only scored once.
“It shows as a staff, we are game planning to stop them,” Villanueva said. “And even when things aren’t working, we are ready to adjust at all times.”
Toward the end of the first half, Soledad took total control of the game on one of the wildest plays this season. Daniel Raso caught the ball on a screen pass, and instead of going down to end the half, he tried to reverse to go to the other side of the field, but the King City defenders caught him.
Just as Raso was about to get tackled, he flipped the ball to his teammate Jesse Argueta, who found a line and was about to score as the clock went to zero. Soledad left the King City sideline in disbelief as they led 20-6 at halftime.
In the second half, Soledad added two more touchdowns by Ivan Salcido and Raso to complete the 33-6 win over the Mustangs.
The last time the Aztecs beat the Mustangs was back in 2016.
With the victory, Soledad is now one win away from claiming their first-ever Cypress Division title and their first league title since 2017.
Soledad will host St. Francis on Friday, with a playoff spot and league title on the line.