APTOS—Aptos High football coach Randy Blaneknship has won countless league titles throughout his illustrious career, including six straight Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League crowns since joining the program.
But for the first time since joining the Pacific Coast Athletic League in 2017, the Mariners won at least a share of their first Gabilan Division championship following a much-needed 41-22 win over Hollister High on Friday night.
“They just kept on being persistent and showing resiliency. I’m really proud of them,” Blankenship said.
With the win, Aptos (8-2, 5-1) secured a three-way tie for the Gabilan Division title after Salinas beat Palma also on Friday night.
The Cowboys won the previous four league titles and were co-champion with the Chieftains in 2018.
Aptos’ victory against Hollister (5-5, 3-3) guaranteed it the No. 3 seed in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs. They’ll host No. 6 Christopher on Friday at 7pm.
In addition to a Mariners victory, Salinas needed to defeat Palma—which beat Aptos—in order for the league title to be split three ways.
Throughout the game, updates on the ongoing battle between the Cowboys and Chieftains were announced by the public announcer.
The packed crowd and Mariner sideline roared upon hearing Salinas’ victory over Chieftains.
“It’s really special. This is [Blankenship’s] first one and it’s awesome to just get the job done,” Aptos linebacker Collin Mennie said. “I know it’s been eating at him. It’s been in his sleep for a few years and to finally get it done, I think that’s a big weight off his shoulders.”
Mennie played a large role in the dominance of Aptos’ defense, which prevented the Haybalers from recording a first down until the third quarter.
On the other side of the ball, Aptos consistently ran the ball down the field and finished the game with 282 yards on 42 carries.
Junior running back Jordan Torres ran a 9-yard touchdown that put Aptos up 21-2 midway through the third quarter. He finished with 42 yards rushing on seven carries and the one score.
“After that touchdown I was feeling good about the game, but what really sold it was that punt block. That’s when I was like, we can take it slow from here,” Torres said.
The special teams unit put the Mariners in a better position to secure the win after Koko Banks blocked a punt and Fabian Cortes scooped it up for a 30-yard return into the end zone, extending the lead to 28-2.
Aptos’ devastating loss to Palma two weeks ago was still fresh in many of the players’ minds after the game, especially Mennie.
“It was a rollercoaster. We had some ups and downs, losing to Palma a few weeks ago,” he said.
Still, they were able to bounce back from that loss as a lesson going into the last stretch of the season, which resulted in a share of the league title.
The intensity was high throughout the night, especially because the Mariners were determined to secure a league title on Senior Night.
They also wanted to end their successful season on a high note before heading into the CCS playoffs.
“Kids did a really good job with our adjustments and playing hard defense,” Blankenship said. “When the defense gives the offense the ball, we usually can do something with it.”
Hollister didn’t find any success offensively, apart from a safety with two minutes left in the second quarter.
That was until late in the third when junior Brayden Watkins ran into the end zone from 10-yards out for the Haybalers’ first touchdown of the night.
“We got off the ball better in the second half offensively,” Hollister coach Bryan Smith said. “Defensively, we did a good job in the first but kinda wore down over time.”
Walkins went on to score two more touchdowns including a 66-yard sprint to the end zone that made it a 41-22 game with 4:58 left in the game.
“Just guys not doing their job. That’s where they’ve got to be ready to go,” Blankenship said.
Aptos rekindled their defensive prowess and finished out the game while preventing a Hollister comeback.
Going into the postseason with a commanding victory and tie for the league title, Aptos wants to carry their momentum into Friday when they will host Christopher (9-1, 4-1).
“This isn’t the end of the season,” Blankenship said. “It’s not over.”
CCS Division II playoffs
No. 3 Aptos vs. No. 6 Christopher
Where: Aptos High School
When: Friday at 7pm
Admission: $10 adults, $5 students/children/seniors
Ticket website: https://gofan.co/app/school/CIFCCS