HS football: Wildcatz pounce on Grizzlies to capture Belgard Kup


APTOS Winning the Belgard Kup Game, the annual battle between crosstown rivals Watsonville and Pajaro Valley, is said to be a very satisfying victory.

But for Watsonville senior Blake Mares, Friday night felt like an old pickup game between longtime buddies.

“It feels really nice (to win) but it’s always love off the field as well,” Mares said. “I have some friends on PV, so they always know it’s business on the field.”

The Wildcatz defeated the Grizzlies, 21-7, in the 13th annual Belgard Kup, as Watsonville players raised the illustrious 5-quart white ceramic mug in front of hundreds of fans at Carl Conelly Stadium. 

Mares said the rivalry is always special because most of the players grew up together and went to the same middle schools.

“Some of them are very close friends to other people, it’s a great time,” Mares said.

Mares’ two-touchdown performance helped the Wildcatz win the Belgard Kup for the 11th time. Watsonville is now 12-2 against the Grizzlies and has won the rivalry game the past three years.

“It was nerve-racking,” Mares said. “It’s my senior year, my last game against PV, so I knew our team was confident. We needed to humble ourselves down in the beginning but we came out, worked hard and we won.”

Watsonville High running back Blake Mares scored two touchdowns in a 21-7 win against Pajaro Valley on Friday night at Cabrillo College. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

Pajaro Valley also played with confidence, shutting down Watsonville’s rushing attack in the first half and forcing a fumble early in the game.

“The fact that we’re at least able to play with them on defense, that’s a huge plus,” said Pajaro Valley coach Kevin Cordova. “We’ve definitely played more aggressive than in years past against them. We couldn’t make enough offensive plays to really get it in our favor.”

Watsonville senior Ryan Itamura said they were expecting a lot less from Pajaro Valley but instead they came in swinging hard.

“They wanted to knock our heads off,” Itamura said. “They came out hitting us in the mouth with every punch.”

Watsonville senior Alex Velazquez fumbled early in the second quarter and the Grizzlies defense was fast to jump on the loose ball.

Pajaro Valley seniors Kevin Landeros and Carlos Hernandez rotated at quarterback throughout the game. But it was Hernandez who connected with receiver Daniel Gonzalez for a 50-yard strike to set the Grizzlies up at the 1-yard line. It took four plays for Landeros to cap it off with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

Hernandez converted the extra point and the game was tied at 7-all going into halftime. 

  

Pajaro Valley senior Carlos Hernandez takes off with the ball as he looks for an open receiver during Friday night's game against Watsonville High. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

“It was a rough patch at the beginning but we came, honestly, a little too confident,” Mares said. “Our linemen understood what their mistakes were...and we executed.”

The Grizzlies also suffered a rash of injuries, which meant other players stepped in to play out of position.

“We played extremely hard but it’s like I told them, ‘Your heart played four quarters but your bodies didn’t,’” Cordova said. 

The Wildcatz took a 14-7 lead after a 16-play, 65-yard drive that was capped off by Mares' first score with 3:05 left in the third quarter.

Mares scored his second touchdown in the fourth to put Watsonville up 21-7.

The Wildcatz shut down the Grizzlies' rush attack and the defense sacked Landeros on third down late in the fourth quarter, which forced them to punt. 

“Our defense is something else this year,” Itamura said. 

Pajaro Valley made a last-minute push. Hernandez connected with a receiver for a big gain, and an explosive run set the Grizzlies up at the 4-yard line. 

But time expired before they could punch it into the end zone, and the Wildcatz ran onto the field to celebrate their 11th Belgard Kup victory in school history.

“It was a good rock ‘em, sock ‘em kind of game,” said Watsonville coach Ron Myers. “We come out in our first game and to be that big of a physical battle is awesome. It kind of sets a tone for us.” 

Myers said the team played much tougher as the game went on and the defense played great despite giving up the two long pass plays.

“We were there, too, to make the plays and they just made the plays that got us,” Myers said. “But that’s what preseason games are for, to practice those things." 

Myers said the Grizzlies' special teams did a great job in the kicking game, especially in the first quarter where the Wildcatz were pinned inside as close as the 5-yard line. Then the early turnover along with a penalty that called back a touchdown run killed most of the momentum in the first half.

“A penalty and a fumble that we’re not supposed to do. We’re not supposed to do those things,” Myers said. “But the second half we played clean and we did a pretty good job.”

Watsonville High running back Blake Mares celebrates in the end zone after scoring his first touchdown on Friday night against Pajaro Valley. The Wildcatz defeated the Grizzlies, 21-7, in non-league action. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

Itamura said it was a special win on Friday but they have to look past it quickly to focus on next week’s game against Monterey.

“(Pajaro Valley) came out harder than we thought they were but we were able to pull off the (win), so let’s just keep rolling and get it next week,” Itamura said.

Itamura said there was a lot of times they were beating their opponent to the punch but the Grizzlies came in wanting it more.

“We’re gonna keep firing off the ball as hard as we can every time but we’re just gonna keep driving this next week,” he said.  

Mares said there’s still a lot to work on, as they need to be well prepared for next week’s game against the Toreadores, who won their season opener against Alvarez. 

“All we have to do is come in, watch their games, see what we can find out and work on our offense,” Mares said. “All we can do is work and prepare.”

Watsonville (1-0) will play its home opener against Monterey (1-0) in non-league play on Friday at Emmett M. Geiser Field with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.

Pajaro Valley (1-0) will try to rebound next week in its non-league matchup at Soquel High (1-0), also on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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