HOLTVILLE – Friday night football was in full swing at Holtville even though most Valley teams had the week off, with many in attendance to witness CIF Division IV’s Central Spartans march ten miles out of town to do battle with last years CIF division V champions, the Holtville Vikings. The Viking stadium atmosphere was electric as Imperial Valley enjoyed their first “cool” weather football, a sign that meaningful fall football finally had arrived.
The contest itself was a slug fest with both teams trading big plays and long grinding drives, but in the end, the Spartans escaped with a 14-10 victory over a spirited Viking team and the Holtville “12th man” crowd.
The hosting Vikings received the first kickoff and drove from the twenty-yard line after a touchback. From there, a seventeen-play, eighty-yard drive ate ten minutes plus of clock time off the first quarter. Following tough running inside the tackles were Esteban Munoz, Josh Edwards, Greg Abatti and Josh Lobstien. The drive capped off with a seventeen-yard pass from Munoz to Devin Rodriguez to put the Vikings up 7-0 with less than two minutes left in the first quarter.
After a touchback on the kickoff, the Spartans began their drive from their own twenty yard line. With Pete Sanchez under center, favorite wide receiver target, Jose Valbuena, and elusive running back, Angel Ramirez, in the backfield, Central hoped to respond with lightning to the Viking workman-like possession. On a drive which featured multiple holding infractions erasing big gains from the Spartans, two crucial third down conversions, both converted through the air by connections from Sanchez to Valbuena, the Spartans finally cashed in on a nine-yard quarterback keeper to tie the game at 7-7.
On the ensuing possession for the Vikings, a promising drive was stopped just short of paydirt as a fumble in the Spartan red zone gave the Spartans possession of the ball deep in their own territory.
This time it was the Viking’s defense and special team’s turn to step up, as they held a three and out and were not fooled by a Spartan fake punt, taking over on downs at the Spartan thirty one yard line.
Three plays could net only three yards, so Viking kicker Abraham Mendez took his turn to step it up and converted a forty-five yard field goal to put the Vikings up 10-7 with little over three minutes left to play in the first half.
With the presumed last possession of the half belonging to the Spartans, they again found themselves in foul trouble as penalties pinned them deep in their own territory. With but one minute left to play in the first half, Sanchez again found his target man, Valbuena, for an eighty-nine yard touchdown catch and run to bring the halftime score to 14-10.
Although there was no scoring in the second half there were its fair share of close calls and exiting moments as again the Spartans could not stop hurting their own cause, nullifying big plays with offensive penalties, including a seventy-yard, highlight-reel catch and run from playmaker Angel Ramirez that could have iced the game in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings had the last meaningful possession of the game, down 14-10, they could not hold the Spartan defensive line any longer, as two sacks and a QB hurry on fourth down and long, forced a turnover on downs giving Central a close, hard fought, 14-10 victory.
“It was a good game, they gave us a hard run here, we made a lot of mental mistakes but we ended up pulling off the win at the end and that’s the ultimate goal,” Said Central Spartan head coach Mike Hobbs of his squad’s showing on the night.
“We just got to continue working hard and getting better,” added Hobbs.
The Spartans now move their record to 2-3 on the season. Up next for the Spartans will be a visit to defending IVL champions the Tigers of Imperial next week as both teams open up IVL play.
With the loss, the Vikings fall to 4-2 with Manzanita League play around the corner, as they host Crawford high next week in a league showdown as well as CIF division V championship rematch of last year.
“I’m very proud of our kids, we played a great game against a very good, tough team, we were the underdogs and we almost had them. A couple things go differently and it’s our game,” said Holtville Viking head coach Keith Smith Jr. of the team’s performance.
“We know Crawford’s going to be tough, their going to come in here wanting to get some payback because we beat them in the CIF championship last year and we have to be prepared, so we’re going to prepare for the game like we always do and have a solid game plan and do our best to put the team in the best position possible to win,” said Smith Jr. looking towards next week home matchup against Crawford High of San Diego.