Photos by Lauren Ramirez
SOLEDAD — Time ran out on Friday for the Soledad Aztec football team and their hopes of defending the Central Coast Section they won last season as they were defeated 24-17 by the Scotts Valley Falcons in the opening round of the CCS Division V playoffs.
Soledad had the football with under a minute to play but fell twenty yards short of tying the game. The Falcons outscored the Aztecs 14-3 in the second half in a game that featured four lead changes.
“Our defense played as good as they can play for most of the game,” said Soledad head coach Frankie Berlanga. “In the final minutes they were a little tired from being on the field so long and Scotts Valley ran the ball right at us. Offensively we had too many dropped passes and turned over the ball. They (Falcons) came up with big plays when they needed them including a punt return that produced a touchdown.”
Scotts Valley finished behind the Aztecs in the Mission Trail Athletic League standings and lost 19-3 to Soledad on Oct. 20. The Falcons were seeded sixth in Division V behind the third seed Aztecs for the playoffs. Scotts Valley drew first blood on Friday taking a 7-0 lead at the 2:41 mark of the first quarter with a 27-yard touchdown run by running back Anthony Locatelli and PAT by quarterback and place kicker Kyle Rajala. The lead held until the final 26.9 of the quarter when the Aztecs tied the game at 7-7 with a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Robbie SantaAnna to running back and kicker Ulisses Uribe.
Running back Emanuel Ortega found the going tough to start the game as the Falcons were intent on clogging up the middle against the Aztec stellar running back. Ortega warmed up in the second quarter with gains of 11, 6, and two yards before running away from Scotts Valley for a 54-yard touchdown. Uribe added the PAT and Soledad took a 14-7 lead with 8:09 left in the first half. The defenses dominated play the rest of the quarter and the Aztecs took the 14-7 advantage into the halftime intermission.
Scotts Valley cut the Aztec lead at the 6:40 mark of the third quarter with a 15-yard field goal by Rajala to get the Falcons within four points of the Aztecs at 14-10. Scotts Valley used the running of Locatelli and Ryan Conte to wear down the Aztecs on the scoring drive. Towards the end of the quarter the Falcons forced a punt and the ball landed in the hands of Kyle Raymond who took with a head of steam down the visitors side for a 60-yard touchdown that quieted a the home crowd. Rajala added the PAT after the score to give Scotts Valley a 17-14 lead with 10.5 remaining in the third quarter.
The Aztecs were struggling with the passing game as SantaAnaa threw a pair of incomplete passes. A fourth and long play forced Soledad to send in Uribe for a 40-yard field goal attempt and the senior kicker responded by kicking the ball through the uprights to tie the game at 17-17 with 9:11 left on the game clock.
The teams held the opposing offense in check on the next two series but a short punt from Soledad gave the ball to the Falcons within the forty-five yard line of the Aztecs.
Needing just field with less than two minutes to play Scotts Valley kept the ball on the ground an earned a pair of first downs with Locatelli and Conte doing much of the damage. Locatelli ran the ball into the red zone but a sack on quarterback on Rajala by David Cruz pushed the ball back to the 25-yard line.
Locatelli then took the ball down the sideline, got away for the Soledad backfield and scored what would be the game winning points. The Rajala PAT gave the Falcons the lead at 24-17 with less than a minute to play.
On the kickoff Angel Olivas caught the ball, followed his blockers and reached the Falcon 40-yard line to give his team a chance with 56.5 second left to play.
The Aztecs were able to earn a pair of first downs but with time running out of the season and pressure coming from the Falcons the yardage was hard earned.
Reaching the 20 on plays by SantaAnna and Aaron Rodriguez Soledad had one last shot to reach the end zone.
Santa Anna went back to look for Rodriguez to make a play but a slip forced the quarterback to throw a high pass towards Olivas that sailed over the head of the defender and the Soledad receiver to end the game.
“We felt with Angel being doubled teamed we had to get the ball to Aaron (Rodriguez),” said Coach Berlanga. “Scotts Valley was doing a good job on our receivers defensively as they were forced to adjust their routes. When Aaron slipped and was getting up Robbie had to look for another receiver to throw to.
"If we had been able to make plays earlier in the game we could have padded our lead or at least not have to make plays with time running out. Scotts Valley made good adjustments from the last time we played them and did a good job defensively and running the ball. I feel good that program is where we want it to be right now and we will work to continue to win games and to contend for titles.”
The Aztecs end the season at 7-4 and the Falcons improve to 7-4 with a game this Saturday against #2 seed Menlo School at 1 p.m. in Atherton. In the bottom bracket #1 seed Gilroy downed Santa Cruz 41-7 and will host #4 seed Hillsdale on Friday at 7 p.m.