SALINAS—Watsonville Junior Wildcatz standout Giovani Rivero has been nearly impossible to contain in the Monterey Bay Youth Football League this season.
He’s been using his agile legs to juke opposing defenses and zipping past offensive lineman for quarterback sacks.
Rivero used his swiftness once again to help the No. 3-seeded ‘Catz pounce the North County Bulldogs, 34-12, en route to the program’s first-ever Junior Peewee Division 2022 Super Bowl Championship title.
Rivero was responsible for four of their scores—finishing with two rushing touchdowns, a touchdown pass and a punt return for a TD.
“This kid’s electric,” said Watsonville coach Ricky Gonzalez. “I always tell him I’m lucky to be on his team.”
The Jr. Wildcatz—established in 1965—not only won their first title but it was also the team’s first-ever trip to the Super Bowl championship game.
The players made the best of their trip by winning the Dick Leonard Memorial Trophy in front of their home fans at Rabobank Stadium in Salinas.
“That Rabobank Stadium was pretty nice but I felt like I was at Levi’s Stadium,” said Gonzalez, who was referring to where the San Francisco 49ers play their home games.
Rivero gave the crowd something to cheer about after he forced a fumble on the Bulldogs’ opening drive of the game, giving the ‘Catz the momentum right off the bat.
Watsonville capitalized on the turnover and scored on its opening drive that was capped off with Rivero’s first touchdown of the afternoon.
A stifling ‘Catz defense forced the Bulldogs to punt the ball away and Rivero added another exclamation point by returning it for a TD.
“[Rivero] was kind of taking over the game,” Gonzalez said.
North County handed Watsonville its lone loss of the season. The Bulldogs beat the ‘Catz, 12-0, earlier this year.
Gonzalez said they didn’t take the Bulldogs lightly and they were able to study their opponent prior to the big game.
“We were a little bit nervous but that kid [Rivero] made sure it was never in doubt,” Gonzalez said. “Nobody on our sideline ever felt like we were going to lose.”
They took an early lead and the ‘Catz never looked back, he said.
Jayson Jimenez had to sit out for the first half after he went down with an injury in the opening stanza. However, he returned in the third quarter and scored a touchdown.
Angel Escobar also scored a touchdown for the ‘Catz, who went on to win their first championship.
“We have a really good team and every kid wanted it,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez mentioned that being able to shut down an opponent that previously posted a shutout win against them showed the group’s resilience.
Watsonville Junior Wildcatz communications officer Ana Moreno said in an email that the community and local businesses rallied behind the program.
“It’s a great moment not only in Jr. ‘Catz history but for these kids as well. All who worked so hard all season long and really set their minds on achieving this win,” she said.
Gonzalez said he feels extremely blessed to be part of the Jr ‘Catz peewee program and is lucky to have a special group of kids.
Gonzalez also mentioned he’s blessed to have a coaching staff that includes Oscar Rivero, Joey Sandoval, Raymond Medina, Chucky DeLuna and Ricky Garcia, who contributed great coaching experience and preparing the kids not only mentally but physically.
Gonzalez said he’s also fortunate to have dedicated family members that bring the players to practice and go on road trips to games.
“Every parent bought in,” he said. “People asked for rides, everybody made it happen. It took a whole city almost to win, I feel, but we did it.”
Gonzalez said they’re trying to change the narrative because other teams are used to seeing Watsonville as an automatic win on their schedule.
He also mentioned how Watsonville will always be considered a soccer town but he feels like the future is looking bright.
Especially after winning a championship with kids ranging from 7-9 years old.
“I’ve heard us being called the doormat as far as football,” Gonzalez said. “Not anymore.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned that Watsonville Junior Wildcatz football player Angel Escobar getting injured and returning to the game, which is incorrect. Jayson Jimenez was injured in the first quarter and returned to the game.