Aptos High came into last week’s game against newly formed rival Palma High with a league record of 1-1 and major playoff implications.
As expected, the game was offensively fueled with back and forth scoring as neither team had a clear edge heading into the fourth quarter.
That was until a Chieftain pick-six sealed the deal for a 52-41 victory in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play Oct. 14, sending Mariner fans packing.
“I thought it was a great first half, then we made a couple mistakes in the second,” Aptos head coach Randy Blankenship said. “The tide turned, if we didn’t do that it would’ve been a great game all the way through.”
Two turnovers on bobbled tosses gave Palma enough momentum to put the game away.
Plus, a facemask penalty moved the Chieftains up the field 15 yards and bailed them out of what would’ve likely been a punt.
“Those things right there we’ve gotta stop making,” Blankenship said.
However, the Mariners’ offense was rolling for most of the game despite going up against the Chieftains’ signature speed and strength.
On their very first snap, Aptos senior Quarterback Matt Hood connected with senior Jasiah McKenzie on an incredible route over outstretched Chieftain arms and into the hands of the receiver for a 63-yard touchdown.
Despite not playing last season, McKenzie has proven himself as a valuable asset for the team.
Additionally, senior running back Lawrence Ingram IV had a pair of 44 yard rushing touchdowns in the second half.
“Aptos has been in this situation and they’ve gone to playoffs and won it,” said senior Jordan Torres on his team’s outlook moving into the rest of the season. “We’re not giving up. We are going to get to work for next week and hopefully win out.”
A pair of Chieftains took the spotlight in a game they had circled on their calendar all year.
Palma senior Logan Saldate, who recently committed to Notre Dame to continue his football career, demonstrated his abilities on Saturday.
The standout receiver contributed two touchdowns including a 73-yard reception that gave the Chieftains back the lead back early in the third stanza.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the game was freshman running back Eli Dukes, who exploded for three touchdowns in the night – the most in his blossoming career.
Dukes worked as a ballboy for Blankenship for half a decade, as they shared a moment after the game.
“I think the team and myself have high expectations of me,” Dukes said. “I didn’t get pulled up to not play and do well.”
Throughout the entire first three quarters it was an offensive blitzkrieg from both teams with little defensive resistance.
It was the defensive stops Palma forced that eventually led to victory, which was capped off with an interception return for a touchdown by Brandon Chrisman with 4:33 remaining in the game.
Last year, Palma narrowly defeated Aptos 24-21 with a last-second field goal to take the win.
Seemingly every year the two teams face off means a nail-biting battle between the rival schools.
“We’ve had some phenomenal games against each other, and there’s nobody I respect more in the coaching profession than Randy Blankenship,” said Palma head coach Jeff Carnazzo – who has coached football for 32 years. “His kids play hard for him and that says a lot about a coach.”
In 2022, Aptos finished 5-1 in PCAL Gabilan Division play and were tri-champions alongside Palma and Salinas High.
With just three games remaining in the season, the Mariners find themselves tied for fifth in the league standings with Alvarez High, which Aptos demolished, 62-6, to begin the league season.
The Mariners aren’t too concerned about their record, but focused on playing as good as they know they are.
“I don’t worry about the playoffs,” Blankenship said. “They’ve been screwing us in the playoffs for a long time now. I just want to get this group to be able to play and enjoy a victory. We easily could be undefeated.”
In recent years, Aptos faced imposing teams in the Central Coast Section playoffs from the West Catholic Athletic League such as Serra and Saint Francis high schools.
Soquel High and Palma both currently sit atop of the Gabilan Division standings with a 3-1 record.
With the toughest stretch of the 2023 regular season behind them, the Mariners aim to finish the second half undefeated and go from there.
Aptos (2-5, 1-2) will play at Monterey (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday at 2pm.
“I didn’t think we played with spirit or courage last week,” said Blankenship on their 45-26 loss to Salinas on Oct. 5. “Tonight I think we fought, we just made mistakes, tackled too high, and didn’t wrap our arms. But that’s not because we weren’t trying.”
Week 7 Scoreboard
At Scotts Valley 33, Monte Vista Christian 8: Mustangs quarterback Dominic Pierini recorded a rushing touchdown in their loss to the Falcons in PCAL Mission North Division action Oct. 13.
MVC coach Spencer Ferrari-Wood said they still have a lot to play for and a chance to win twice as many games as the Mustangs did in 2022.
“I liked the way we battled at the end, we just gotta keep fighting and finish things,” he said. “We did some good things on offense, made some good stops on defense, we couldn’t punch it in or finish it. So, that’s going to be the theme going forward.”
It was the first game this season that MVC had a full healthy squad after losing some players due to injuries.
“We got a couple guys dinged up but we just got to improve,” Ferrari-Wood said. “We need to seek progress not mastery, we just got to get better.”
MVC (3-4, 0-3) will attempt to bounce back in its homecoming game against Santa Cruz (0-8, 0-4) on Friday at 7:30pm.
Stevenson 36, At Pajaro Valley 29: The Grizzlies were edged by the Pirates in PCAL Santa Lucia Division action Oct. 14. PV (1-6, 1-2) will play at Harbor on Friday at 7pm.
At St. Francis 39, Santa Cruz 0: The Sharks crushed the visiting Cardinals on Oct. 14 to earn their first PCAL Mission North Division win of the season. St. Francis (3-4, 1-2) will host Watsonville (2-5, 1-2) on Saturday at 2pm.
Seaside 40, At Watsonville 28: The Wildcatz’s homecoming festivities were spoiled following a loss to the Spartans in PCAL North Mission Division play Oct. 13. Watsonville (2-5, 1-2) will play at St. Francis (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday at 2pm.
*Additional reporting by sports editor Juan Reyes.
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