Aptos High's defense stepped up in the second half of Friday night's game against Alisal High. The Mariners beat the Trojans, 35-20, in PCAL Gabilan Division play. (Quinn Southall/special to The Pajaronian)

APTOS—Aptos High senior Dante Aranda, whose moniker on the football field is “The Bus”, is known for delivering big hits and going full speed whenever the ball is in his hand.    

The 5 foot, 10 inch, 235-pound fullback/nose guard was all over the field for the Mariners in Friday night’s 35-20 win over Alisal High in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play.

Aranda recorded seven tackles and he scored a critical 45-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 14-all going into halftime.

The “Bus” nearly ran out of gas on his way to the end zone but he had just enough left in the tank to help him cross the goal line.   

“I’m running and sometimes I space out,” he said. “I know I’m a big boy but I feel like I move every now and then, and sometimes I forget that I’m a big boy.”

Aranda finished with 72 yards rushing on seven carries and the one score for Aptos, which tallied 296 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Prior to that, the Mariners along with the home crowd—who was on hand celebrating the Homecoming festivities—were a little stunned midway through the second quarter.

Alisal took a 14-7 lead following a 1-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Diego Chaidez. 

“Those guys did a nice job, they’ve come a long way,” Aptos coach Randy Blankenship said.

Chaidez finished with 61 yards rushing on 21 carries and two touchdowns for the Torjans, who tallied 281 yards rushing on 64 carries.

“I feel like we underestimated our opponent just a tad and so they got the edge on us,” Aranda said. “But I feel like after a good talk with our team we were like, ‘We need to focus and just handle them.’” 

Blankenship said he was expecting a tight battle, especially from a disciplined Trojans offense that committed just one penalty and didn’t turn the ball over.

“They just get three yards here, four yards there, five, two and you add four times that, it’s always a first down,” Blankenship said. “I thought in the third quarter our kids came out and relaxed, just played fundamental football.”

Aptos exploded for 21 points in the third quarter, which included a 22-yard run by Caden Prichard that capped off the opening drive of the second half.

Prichard finished with 140 yards rushing on eight carries and a pair of touchdowns.

On the Mariners’ ensuing possession, junior running back Jordan Torres zigged zagged around a couple of defenders and into the end zone from 15-yards out.

Senior quarterback Matt Hood extended the lead after he connected with Lawrence Ingram IV for a 14-yard touchdown pass that put Aptos ahead 35-14.

Alisal coach Cesar Chaidez said it’s always challenging going up against one of the “Power 4” teams within the top-tier Gabilan Division. Still, he also told the players it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

“Our whole mindset is to keep the focus on us and get better everyday at practice,” he said.

Chaidez said they had a tough preseason but the way they are playing now speaks volumes about the character, integrity and work ethic the players possess. 

Out of the 40 players on the roster, 10 of them are seniors.

“We’ve got a young team,” he said. “So that whole maturation process and watching them just get better and better…it’s a beautiful thing to see that connection and that ability to freakin’ just be hardnose and that’s what we want as coaches.”

Diego Chaidez scored his second touchdown of the evening as time expired in the game. However, the Mariners’ defense had already shut them out for the entire second half. 

Aptos did a much better job of stopping the run in the final two stanzas, forcing the Trojans to punt on two straight drives in the third.

Alisal marched down the field in the fourth quarter with a 16-play drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock.

Yet, the Mariners managed to stall the drive and forced the Trojans to turn the ball over on downs.

Blankenship said the defense started to play their assignments and tackling improved, including the ability to push back the big plies.  

Aranda said communication was another big key to their success on the defensive side. He mentioned talking on the field has been one of the main focus points during practice. 

“Sometimes we do have hiccups where we miscommunicate but we are knowledgeable enough to fix it right then and there,” he said.

Aptos (7-2, 4-1) will host rival Hollister (5-4, 3-2) on Friday at 7:30pm.

“[Hollster’s] probably playing the best defense in the league besides Palma, and defense wins championships,” Blankenship said. “So, ours better step up next week if we want to have a part of that [league] championship if Salinas beats Palma.” 

The Mariners are in the mix of a possible three-way tie for the PCAL Gabilan Division title, but they’ll need some outside help. Salinas (8-1, 4-1) has to beat Palma (8-1, 5-0), which also plays Friday at 7:30pm. 

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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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