CASTROVILLE — Guess there really is no place like home.
For the past two years, the North Monterey County High Condors had been doing their best Dorothy impression, closing their eyes, clicking their heels together and wishing they could finally step foot on their brand-new all-weather turf field and stop playing “home” games at other high schools.
On Friday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd of an estimated 3,000 fans, the Condors were finally home for the first time since 2015 and it was a sweet, sweet return. N.M.C. shut out visiting Pajaro Valley High, 29-0, in Monterey Bay League Pacific division play to usher in their new state-of-the art stadium with an emphatic win.
The field was originally scheduled to be completed at the beginning of the season but was pushed back because of inclement weather last winter.
That delay changed very little. It might have made the Condors (2-5, 1-2), who were also sporting new jerseys, even hungrier.
“There was no way we were going to lose this game,” said Condors junior quarterback Joseph Bertao. “Everyone had the mindset just to destroy them and we came out and did it.”
And they did it with Condors old and new on hand.
The administration at N.M.C. brought out former principals, faculty and alumni from the school’s near four decades of operation and even managed to round up a handful of players from the football program’s three Central Coast Section champion teams from the late 1980s.
Additionally, the entire North Monterey County School District’s Board of Education was in attendance. Martha Chavarria, the Vice President of the board whose son, Sergio, was playing linebacker for the Condors, got on the P.A. system and thanked all the members of the N.M.C. family from past and present. She finished off her address between the first and second quarter by saying the kids currently at the school and ones behind them “deserve this.”
“I’m just happy for the student body, the athletes, the community,” said N.M.C. head coach Sean Gomes. “This is home.”
The Condors tested out their new digs on Tuesday and Wednesday night in practices under the lights. Gomes said he was hoping the time on the field earlier in the week would temper the wow factor for Friday’s madhouse, which also featured a video drone buzzing overhead and several other homecoming festivities.
Gomes’ plan seemed to work to perfection, as N.M.C. put up 22 first-half points and created a pair of takeaways, including a deflating interception in the end zone on the Grizzlies’ (1-6, 0-3) opening drive.
Bertao connected with junior receiver Abel Ruiz for the field’s inaugural touchdown midway through the first quarter and also found senior receiver Gerardo Perez on a fade route for a 27-yard score. Bertao capped off the first-half scoring with a 5-yard plunge into the end zone.
“It was nice to get a couple of days under our belts so the newness was kind of a little bit gone when they came down here tonight,” Gomes said. “We talked about distractions. We had to play through those to win and I think they did a good job of focusing in and getting after it.”
Pajaro Valley was focused enough but could not stop hurting itself with turnovers and missed tackles.
Junior quarterback Max Arevalo had a nice connection with senior receiver Diego Navarro, hitting him three times for big gains, but also forced the issue early in the first half and was intercepted twice. His first pick stopped Pajaro Valley’s promising game-opening drive and his second produced Bertao’s touchdown run with 27 seconds before the half.
Perez hauled in the first interception and junior Lupe Chavez recorded the second.
“That whole first half was kind of weird,” said Pajaro Valley head coach Kevin Cordova. “You look at the score and they’re scoring but they weren’t doing a lot of explosive things. They weren’t exposing us…We just weren’t making plays when we needed to. You have to give them credit for that. When they needed big plays, they made big plays. When we had opportunities to make big plays, we just didn’t do it.”
The Grizzlies also suffered a few injuries to go along with the loss. Senior defensive back Danny Jimenez-Carrillo left the game early with a head injury and junior running back Mauricio Suarez suffered a scary leg and neck injury on the same play in the second half. Suarez was laying on the field motionless for a few seconds before he was able to stand on his own and be helped off the field.
Pajaro Valley will have an extra week to heal up before playing at Gilroy High as the Grizzlies head into their bye week. Cordova said he hopes to have both Jimenez-Carrillo and Suarez back on Oct. 20 and also said that there could be more reinforcements on the way for their final three games of the season.
“We were hoping of going into the bye week healthy and actually be able to get work in during our bye week and now it looks like we’re a little banged up again,” Cordova said. “We just haven’t been lucky on that front.”
N.M.C., meanwhile, will have to leave its new home for the next two games before returning to finish out its season on Nov. 3 against Gilroy.
The Condors all said they can’t wait to play on their new home field once again.
“This place is incredible,” Perez said. “Best field in the area because it’s ours.”