The Brawley Union High School football team’s 2016 season under Coach Jon Self nearly mimicked the previous year’s schedule, yet accomplished two of the season’s annual three main goals. The big three – winning IVL, retaining the Victory Bell, and finishing strong in the San Diego CIF post season playoffs. It was a year, not only of ups and downs, but included a few surprises that distinguished this season and gave it its unique flavor.
The first two games of the season were losses to two tough schools, Christian and Valley Center High Schools. The fact that these two schools continue to have success over the Wildcats, but remain in Division III while Brawley stays in Division II is a mystery to me and to many fans. Big wins over two of the three Arizona schools played, Yuma High and Gila Ridge High. Cibola High School Raiders avoided a Zonies’ trifecta for the Wildcats in what was a huge win for the Raiders’ program. The Wildcats ended the first half of the season with a 2-3 record just as they did the year before, entering the bye-week to begin the chase for the IVL title.
The Wildcats opened up league play on the road in Blythe with a win over the Palo Verde High School Yellowjackets 35-6. It evened their record to 3-3 overall to face a much motivated 6-0 undefeated Eagles team from Southwest High School of El Centro. The game lived up to most of the hype, but a dominating defense by the Wildcats proved too much for the potent Eagle offense that had been averaging well over 40+ points a game. A 17-0 shutout, the third shutout in as many games, by the Wildcats made a strong statement and they continued their dominance the next week at Calexico High School with a 42-14 win over the Bulldogs.
That set up the game of the season for the IVL Title against the hosting Defending IVL Champions of 2015- the Imperial High School Tigers. Brawley struck first and built up a big 34-7 lead in the game, but a determined Tigers’ made it interesting and came within two scores at 34-22. The Wildcats managed a 44-22 win that would be the pivotal game for the IVL Title.
The Bell Game was another dominant show of defense as the Wildcats successfully kept the Victory Bell for another year in its trophy showcase.
Undefeated in the IVL and now at 7-3 for the season, the Wildcats hosted a first round Division II playoff game. The game proved too much for the Wildcats, a tough way to end the 2016 campaign. The Westview High School Wolverines avoided a repeat of their last visit in 2005 at Brawley’s Warne Field where they had lost 56-14. They came out on the positive end of a 35-7 win and ended the Wildcats playoff run in the first round.
The dominant defensive play of Blake Zeleney lead all Wildcat defensive players with 221 points that included 71 tackles (11 for loss of yards), a fumble recovered for a touchdown, a blocked kick and a couple batted passes. On offense he caught 8 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Anthony Brambila was second in the defense totals with 164 points that included 65 tackles(six for loss of yards), a fumble recovery, and a quarterback sack.
Sophomore Michael Moreno was third in totals with 156 points that included 57 tackles(five for loss of yards), one quarterback sack, one fumble caused, and two fumble recoveries.
Alek Aguirre was next with 147 points that included 56 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Sophomore Casey Kline made his presence on both sides of the ball. On defense he had 134 points and accounted for 45 tackles, one interception, five batted passes and four quarterback sacks. On offense he had 119 yards on eight receptions. He also had a huge 60 yard touchdown run against Gila Ridge.
George Mickle on defense tallied up 117 points on two interceptions, four batted passes and 29 tackles. His big touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns sparked the special teams, not to mention his 40.4 average in 26 punts. Mickle scored two rushing touchdowns and had three touchdown pass receptions.
A.J. Grijalva was next in the defensive points standings at 109 with 30 tackles. He had five interceptions, three batted passes, caused one fumble, recovered one fumble and had a touchdown on defense. As the starting quarterback he accounted for 358 yards rushing on 86 carries for six touchdowns and threw for 587 yards on 49 completions for six touchdowns.
Ruben Elizalde sparked the defense with 106 points on 37 tackles. Fernando Munoz was in the trenches on the defensive line with 87 points. Honorable mentions on defense are Javier Orozco, Nathan Godinez, Cedric Ambriz, Fernando Razo, Matthew Chavez, Johnny Marquez, Isaac Garcia and lastly, Alec Gastelo, who was limited to play due to an injury before the start of the season. He was able to finished 2016 without any serious injuries.
The Wildcats ended with a 7-4 record, an IVL title and retained the Victory Bell for the 2016 season. Their goal next year is to be the first team in many years to repeat as IVL Champions in 2017.