Aptos High senior Matt Hood walks toward the sideline following a 45-26 loss to Salinas High in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play Oct. 5. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

After going through the challenging preseason portion of its schedule, Aptos High was primed and ready to make a run at defending last year’s share of the Gabilan Division championship.   

The road back to league supremacy became a tad bit harder for the Mariners following a 45-26 loss to Salinas High in Pacific Coast Athletic League action Oct. 5.  

It was a night riddled with mistakes for Aptos, which turned the ball over twice including an uncharacteristic fumbled snap in the first half and numerous penalties on defense that extended drives for Salinas. 

“We got our butt kicked, plain and simple,” said Aptos coach Randy Blankenship. “You can try to answer everybody’s score but it just makes it tougher when you start making stupid mistakes. We stopped ourselves most of the game.”

Aptos senior receiver Jasiah McKenzie said he felt they were the better team preparing for Thursday’s showdown, yet it was the Cowboys’ no-huddle offense that caught them off guard.  

“They were on the line fast right after the play,” he said. “I feel like our guys got winded a little bit but we gotta get used to that and get ready for next week.”

The Mariners will have a couple of extra days to prepare for their Gabilan Division meeting with Palma (1-5, 1-0) on Trevin Dilfer Memorial Field in Aptos on Oct. 14 at 7:30pm. 

The Chieftains are coming off a bye week and a 31-30 overtime win over Hollister on Sept. 29. 

Salinas was fresh off its bye week, which usually means rest and a relaxed practice. Instead, Salinas coach Steve Zenk had the players prepare like it was any other week.

“It went about what we expected,” he said. “[Aptos is] always really hard to stop. I thought that they had some holes on defense we could exploit and I thought that we both did a good job of that.”

One of those exploited holes was a deep bomb from Aptos senior quarterback Matt Hood to McKenzie who made a spectacular catch as he was falling to the ground, setting them up at Salinas’ own 3-yard line.

“I told my quarterback, ‘You put it up there. I got you, I’ll come down with it,’” he said. “So, we told coach and [Matt Hood] just kind of threw it out there. We went up and the safety tipped it and I was falling backwards, and I don’t ever give up on the play.”

Senior running back Lawrence Ingram IV capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 28-20 going into halftime. 

But the turnovers were definitely the name of the game Thursday night, Zenk said. 

“Without those turnovers, we’re probably still playing and it’s 44-41 like last year and we’ll see who wins,” he said.

The Mariners won last year’s contest, 44-41, to give Blankenship his first win over Salinas in league play since making the move from the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League to the PCAL in 2017.

Salinas senior safety Nolan Borel made sure history wouldn’t repeat itself. Coming out of the halftime break, he intercepted a deep pass attempt by running back Jordan Torres after receiving the toss from Hood. 

It turned out to be a costly turnover for the Mariners. 

Borel rewarded himself on the ensuing play, taking it the distance for a 73-yard touchdown that extended the lead at 35-20 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter. 

Blankenship said the turnovers hurt deep down in the belly, yet his biggest concern was how the Cowboys rushing attack was able to run wide on Aptos’ defense.

“That’s our strength and they destroyed our strength,” Blankenship said. “Usually we have four or five guys attacking the flank, we had one guy out there and I don’t know where the rest went.”

The Mariners wouldn’t give up that easily. Hood snuck his way into the end zone but the missed 2-point conversion still had them down two possessions at 35-26 late in the third quarter. 

It was as close as Aptos got. Salinas added 10 more points in the fourth including Borel’s second touchdown of the half.  

Since taking over the program in 2017, Zenk picked up his fifth win over Aptos and Blankenship, who will retire at the end of the season.    

“That’s a really good man,” said Zenk about Blankenship. “I told my kids yesterday, nobody spends 50 years of their life doing this if they don’t love kids. Make sure we respect that guy. That’s awesome…I’m at 26 [years of coaching experience], there’s no way I’m making 50.” 

Week 7 Scoreboard

Gonzales 52, Pajaro Valley 15: Isaiah Ibarra rumbled his way into the end zone for a touchdown on the Grizzlies’ game-opening drive in a loss to the Spartans in PCAL Santa Lucia Division action Oct. 6.

Junior quarterback Miguel Solano connected with senior receiver Andrew Salazar for a TD in the fourth quarter.

Pajaro Valley’s defense made a couple of nice plays including a fumble recovery and an interception by Brenden Jones in the red zone, stalling a potential score for Gonzales.

The Grizzlies (1-5, 1-1) will host Stevenson (3-2, 2-0) on Saturday at 12:30pm. 

St. Francis 39, Santa Cruz 0: The Sharks recorded their first league win of the season against the Cardinals in PCAL Mission North Division action on Oct. 7.

St. Francis (3-4, 1-2) will host Watsonville (2-4, 1-1) on Saturday at 2pm.

Scotts Valley 32, Watsonville 0: The Wildcatz were shut out for a second time this season following a loss to the Falcons in PCAL Mission North Division play on Oct. 6.

Watsonville (2-4, 1-1) will play at St. Francis (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday at 2pm. 

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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