WATSONVILLE — With the game on the line and the Aptos High defense backed up in its own end zone, Desmond Mendoza saw an opening and signaled to the sidelines.
“I was yelling at coach if I could [blitz] and he let me go,” Mendoza said.
It turned out to be the right choice.
Mendoza stormed into the pocket unblocked for a key strip sack in the fourth quarter and junior running back Marcos Reyes put the finishing touches on what turned out to be an historic 49-28 Monterey Bay League Gabilan division win over the Monte Vista Christian Mustangs on Friday night.
Two plays after Mendoza blindsided M.V.C. senior quarterback Sean White and senior lineman Nick Romero-Alcala recovered the fumble, Reyes bolted for a 65-yard touchdown run.
The score not only iced the Mariners’ (6-2, 5-0) victory over their geographical rivals but also put Reyes into the Aptos record book. His 292 yards rushing on Friday night tied the program’s single-game rushing yards record set by Mike Allshouse in 1991.
“It means a lot but I have a lot higher expectations for myself right now,” said Reyes, a 5-foot-7, 176-pounder who also starred defensively at linebacker and completed a pass on a trick play. “It means a lot, don’t get me wrong, I’m excited, but I got to do a lot more.”
Aptos might need a similar performance from Reyes on Friday, as the Mariners will welcome in Salinas High (7-2, 6-0) for a critical MBL-Gabilan division meeting. A win would give the Mariners sole possession of first place in the league with one game left but a loss would mark the end of their 37-game winning streak against league opponents that dates back to the 2011 season.
“We need everybody to go off,” Reyes said. “Salinas is scary. It’s going to be a good game. I’m excited.”
On Friday night, there wasn’t much more Reyes could’ve done for Aptos, which at last had the chance to face-off with M.V.C. (4-5, 2-4) for the first time since the two schools were a part of the now-defunct Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League in 2001.
He scored four times on the ground on runs of 74, three, four and the aforementioned 65-yarder that sealed the Mariners’ triumph and gave them bragging rights over the Mustangs after months of back-and-forth smack talk leading up to Friday’s meeting.
“There was a lot of tension between us and Monte Vista — a lot of internet talking,” Mendoza said.
But the game didn’t quite live up to the hype until White started getting things going in the second half. After passing for only 78 yards before the intermission, White thoroughly torched the Aptos secondary over the final two quarters for 268 yards.
Following a 22-yard strike to junior receiver Daniel Brierley to make it a two-score game with 9:01 left, the Mustangs recovered an onside kick and White drove them into the red zone. But Mendoza sacked the signal caller on a crucial third down, forcing a fumble and short-circuiting the Mustangs’ comeback bid.
Two plays later Reyes put the exclamation mark on the victory.
“The O-line was just there,” Reyes said. “That 65-yarder, no one touched me. I ran right through.”
He wasn’t the only one. Sophomore fullback Josh Powell had 142 yards rushing and a touchdown and senior running back Will Murphy added 39 yards on the ground and also scored a rushing touchdown.
Aptos junior quarterback Hunter Matys connected with senior receiver Blake Wheeler for a 44-yard touchdown.
Aptos junior defensive back Shane Modena made his third interception of the season.
Powell jumpstarted the Mariners’ first-half barrage with a 65-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.
On the ensuing possession, White quickly led the Mustangs down the field on an eight-play scoring drive that culminated with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brierley. But that was the last time M.V.C. had success in the first half.
Aptos scored on its next four possessions and the Mariners’ defense locked up the Mustangs’ normally prolific passing game to head into the locker room up 35-7.
M.V.C., however, looked like a different team in the second half. White misfired on his first attempt of the third quarter but went on to complete 10 of his next 11 passes.
Junior receiver Nick Bautista had only two catches for 10 yards in the first half but was able to find the soft spot in the coverage plenty during the final two quarters. He gave the Mustangs’ offense a spark by making seven grabs for 149 yards in the second half.
The running game was also working more efficiently for M.V.C. after the break. Senior running back Cody Paresa finished with 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns, both of which came in the third quarter when the Mustangs closed the gap to 35-21 with 3:23 left before the final stanza.
“We kind of just went into overdrive,” White said. “We did all we could to come back.”
Sitting one game below .500, the Mustangs are in danger of missing the Central Coast Section playoffs for the first time since 2013. A win against Seaside High next week would not only put an end to a three-game losing streak but bolster their playoff resume.
“We’ve approached every game as a must-win but this is the biggest game, probably, of the year — every week is the biggest game of the year,” White said. “We want to make playoffs. Ever since I’ve been here, this team has made playoffs. None of us know what Monte Vista not making playoffs looks like so we’re going to do everything we can to come out against Seaside and play hard on both sides of the ball.”
Aptos, meanwhile, has already secured one of the MBL-Gabilan division’s four guaranteed playoff spots. The league title, however, is still up for grabs.
“We’ve worked all season for this moment,” Reyes said. “It’s going to be a blast just being out on the field. I can’t wait to play. I’ll probably start watching film when I get home.”