SALINAS VALLEY — With the Gonzales Spartans trying to bring the Heritage Trophy back to Soledad, Friday’s game came down to one drive in the final minute that ended with the Aztecs’ James Lara winning 19-14.
As the temperature drops at Gene Martin Stadium in Soledad, it’s always a tight game when the Spartans and Aztecs meet.
Last season, the Aztecs brought back the Heritage Trophy from an injury-plagued Spartans squad that saw their starting quarterback, Juan Pablo Acosta-Ayala, sit out. Soledad ended up defeating Gonzalez 28-12 to snap a two-game losing streak.
This year, Soledad started by running the ball into Gonzalez’s defense. The Aztecs drove 80 yards, and starting quarterback Ivan Salkida found himself in the endzone after a fumbled pass that he was able to catch in the air.
After struggling a week ago against King City, Gonzalez running back Champ Flores needed a big game if the Spartans were going to get the win. Flores gave the Spartans a 7-6 lead in the second quarter, snapping a long streak.
Flores has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his four games this season.
As the second half wound down, Soledad put together a drive to give them back the lead. Daniel Raso took a pass and outran everyone with his speed to get into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the season. Soledad led at halftime, 13-7.
All season long, Gonzalez’s defense has allowed 20-plus points in all four games this year, but this game was the best performance the defense has had.
In the third quarter, the running back Soledad was able to get to the Gonzalez 3-yard line, and instead of going for a field goal, the Aztecs went for it. However, Gonzalez’s defense stepped up and stopped a Soledad break to get the ball back.
Neither offense could find the end zone in the third quarter, so Soledad entered the fourth still leading, 13-7.
Gonzalez had three turnovers, two fumbles and one interception in the fourth quarter. The second fumble put Soledad deep in Sparta territory.
After the fumble, Soledad scored the game’s most important touchdown. The Aztecs turned to Jayden Blanco in the end zone, which not only gave him the first touchdown, but also extended Soledad’s lead, 19-7.
“I just didn’t want to get hit by the defensive end,” Blanco said. “When I saw the gap, I hit it and knew I had a touchdown.”
With the game nearly tied, the Spartans didn’t go away as Acosta-Ayala found the end zone with 2:36 left in the game. Poor clock management by Soledad led to Gonzalez getting the ball back with just over a minute left.
As the Spartans drove to the Soledad 30-yard line, Acosta-Ayala was injured, forcing him to leave the game.
On the next play, the Aztecs’ Lara picked off the Spartans’ backup quarterback to end the game and give Soledad a 19-14 win and the Legacy Trophy for the second year in a row.
“To be honest, I don’t remember the play,” Lara said. “I just saw the ball and went after it.”
Both teams will begin league play this week. Soledad will travel to North Monterey County on Friday, while Gonzalez will play its first home game of the season when it hosts Harbor.