Aptos, Palma, San Benito and Salinas will all have a chance to win a share of the league title after a pair of wild finishes between the four powerhouses of the Monterey Bay on Friday night.
The Chieftains withstood the Mariners’ late rally for a 40-35 win in Aptos, and the Haybalers did the same against the Cowboys in Salinas for a 35-28 victory.
Aptos (8-1, 5-1) will travel to Salinas (6-3, 5-1) next week, and San Benito (6-3, 5-1) will face Palma (8-1, 5-1) at the same time.
Two teams will share the inaugural PCAL-G championship.
Who those teams will be is anyone’s guess.
“We win next week, we’re co-champions,” said Aptos head coach Randy Blankenship. “This one hurt a lot, but if these guys have the fight I think they do, they’ll come back and do it.”
The Mariners were visibly upset after letting Friday’s heartbreaker slip away. Mostly because of how close they came to securing the title-clinching win.
After blowing a pair of leads in the second half, Aptos managed to come within five yards of the game-winning touchdown. But Palma’s defense made its stand on the final play of the game, stopping the Mariners at the 1-yard line to knock them from the ranks of the unbeaten and cause a logjam atop the PCAL-G.
“I thought we were right there,” Blankenship said. “We had to go 80 yards (to win) and we went 79-and-a-half.”
Aptos senior running back Marcos Reyes drew “feed-the-beast” chants as he rushed 26 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns, three of which helped the Mariners take a 21-14 lead into halftime.
Junior fullback Josh Powell added 102 yards rushing on 20 carries, and senior quarterback Hunter Matys made plays with his legs, too, totaling 56 yards and a touchdown on nine totes.
Aptos finished with 435 yards rushing as a team.
Palma senior quarterback Grant Sergent matched Aptos’ potency on the ground with big scoring plays through the air.
The signal caller diced up the Mariners’ secondary by completing 13 of 20 passing attempts for 315 yards and five touchdowns, including his 68-yard connection with junior receiver Jon Jon Berring that stood as the game-winner.
“We were hitting the middle of the field the whole game,” Sergent said of the final touchdown pass. “I thought they were going to cover it, but [Berring] used his speed and got open.”
Berring finished with four receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a 10-yard score in the first half.
Senior receiver Marco Pezzini also had a big day out wide, hauling in four passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns.
Pezzini’s 61-yard touchdown reception at the 7:13-mark of the fourth quarter gave Palma its first lead of the game, 34-28.
But Aptos marched down the field on a 10-play drive to retake the lead on Matys’ 22-yard sprint into the end zone with 3:24 left.
The Mariners forced the Chieftains into fourth down on the ensuring drive, but Sergent stunned the raucous senior night crowd by hitting Berring with a strike over the middle of the field and the speedy receiver did the rest.
Aptos pieced together a 15-play drive over the final 2:12, but a pitch to Reyes was stopped a yard short of the goal line and the Chieftains’ sideline stormed Trevin Dilfer Field in jubilation.
“We felt connected as brothers,” Sergent said.
Palma’s defense gave up 494 yards of offense, but made plays when it needed to.
Brent Eastman’s interception set up Berring’s game-tying 31-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter, and the defense also made a key goal line stand early in the fourth to keep the game tied heading into the final stretch.
The Aptos defense had allowed only 74 points all season before Friday night, but it could not keep a lid on Palma’s explosive attack.
Junior running back Anthony Villegas also had a good day against the Mariners’ normally stout defensive front. He carried 23 times for 126 yards, 86 of which came as Aptos scrambled to stop Sergent and the Palma passing game over the final two quarters.
“We just have to learn from our mistakes and not make them next week and the following weeks,” Matys said.
In other week 10 high school football action:
• M.V.C. 30, North Salinas 7 – Scott Tinsley rushed for two touchdowns, Nick Bautista kicked three field goals and Monte Vista Christian cruised to a PCAL-Mission win on senior night in Watsonville.
M.V.C. (4-5, 4-1), which has locked up one of the division’s three automatic Central Coast Section playoff berths, will close out the regular season at Watsonville next week.
• Soledad 20, Watsonville 14 – The Wildcatz lost their fourth straight PCAL-Mission contest on Friday night in the Salinas Valley.
Watsonville (4-5, 1-4) will finish its season next week at home against M.V.C.
• Monterey 44, St. Francis 0 – The Sharks suffered their second shutout loss in three weeks on Friday night in PCAL-Cypress action in Monterey.
St. Francis (4-5, 1-4) closes out its season at home on Nov. 3 against North Monterey County.
• King City 21, N.M.C. 16 – The Condors fell below .500 after a late rally fell short on Friday night in King City.
N.M.C. (4-5, 2-3) travels to Watsonville to play St. Francis in its season finale on Nov. 3.