EL PASO, TX — After back-to-back home shutouts, it seemed like the Central Spartans were on cruise control through their non-conference schedule. A victory over the Coachella Valley Arabs was seemingly a given; a formality on their way to a 3-0 record. However, a scheduling mishap left the Spartans without an opponent and in a tricky predicament.
The Arabs had double-booked their Week 3 schedule and bailed on the Spartans in favor of a more competitive game against La Quinta. This left the Spartans in the unenviable position of having two byes within their schedule and possibly losing the momentum they'd built up.
Central’s athletic department exhausted all avenues in trying to schedule games throughout the San Diego and Southern sections. They were even in talks to play a game in Los Angeles. With no opponents willing to take on the Spartans, it seemed like Central was resigned to their nine-game schedule.
That was until earlier last week when they were contacted by Del Valle High School, optimistic about scheduling a game with the Imperial Valley power. However, there was just one snafu, Del Valle High School is located in El Paso, Texas — 630 miles from Central’s campus. Logistically, this would be a nightmare road trip for any team, especially on such short notice.
Central head coach David Peña was hesitant about taking the match-up, knowing full well what the cost would be to travel to Texas. Del Valle, to their credit, put those worries to rest as they agreed to pay for Central’s traveling costs totaling between $12,000 to $14,000 in exchange for the match-up.
It was an opportunity that Central Union’s athletic director Sandy Noujiam just simply could not pass up.
“It will definitely be a unique experience for our team,” said Noujiam after the game was finalized.
After traveling the long road not previously traveled by any Imperial Valley team, it was finally time to play football.
Del Valle High school is one of the most modern schools in the El Paso School District, with state-of-the-art athletic facilities across all sports. Conquest Stadium, Del Valle’s home football field, is equipped with a field turf playing surface as well as a $250,000 electronic scoreboard.
Before the game, which was also their home opener, a moment of silence was held by the Del Valle community in remembrance of the mass shooting that was inflicted upon their community August 3, in which 22 people died and 24 suffered injuries. Central also participated during the pregame ceremony.
Once the game started, it was all hands on deck, since it looked early on that the stage might be too big for the Valley school. Quarterback Deniro Osuna threw an interception in the red zone during the Spartans first drive. It would be one of the few miscues that the Spartans would commit in the game.
The Spartans would get on the board first, cashing in on a Del Valle fumble as Angel Nava-Esparza would power it in on third & goal for a 4-yard TD.
Special teams would play a key part in this game, as Central blocked a Del Valle punt towards the end of the first quarter. It was recovered by senior wide receiver Michael Sullivan, who scooped it and scored, giving the Spartans a 13-0 lead after a missed extra point.
Del Valle had talent across the board, but it was clear the Spartans had the advantage in the trenches, suffocating the Conquistadores' runs game and forcing Del Valle to beat them through the air.
Del Valle finally got on the board with a one-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. Central argued the call, saying that the running fumbled the ball before he broke the goal line, but the call was upheld. It seemed like this was the break Del Valle needed to get back in the game; and after a three and out by the Spartans to start the second half, it seemed the Conquistadores were primed to seize the lead and control of the game.
Central head coach David Peña had other ideas. Central ran a fake punt from inside their own 20, as the punter ran the ball 50 yards down the field with no Del Valle defenders in sight, finally being brought down at the Conquistadores 34. The air seemingly left the Del Valle sideline on the next play, as Deniro Osuna connected with Michael Sullivan on a 34-yard touchdown connection off of a bubble screen.
“We saw that their corners were playing off and we wanted to expose that,” said Sullivan. “We just ran a screen behind it and it was open. Give credit to our o-line. They made that play happen.”
Del Valle quarterback Sebastian Carr did his very best to keep his team within striking distance. With their running game neutralized, Del Valle became a one-dimensional offense and just was unable to find any connection downfield. Carr would routinely overthrow his receivers down the field, leading to short drives and more possessions for the Spartans.
The final nail in the coffin was a designed quarterback run by Deniro Osuna for a 9-yard touchdown, which increased the Spartans lead to 20 late in the fourth quarter. The Spartans were untimely victorious in the battle of California vs. Texas; defeating the Del Valle Conquistadores by a final score of 34-21.
“It was good to come here and play with a really good team,” said Central quarterback Deniro Osuna. “We know they we play with just about anyone.”
“I was very proud of our team, how we were able to overcome some adversity, especially with that long road trip,” said Central Head Coach David Peña. “You never really know where the kids’ heads are at. The guys pulled together as a team and we’re very fortunate to come out on top this evening.”
Many families and friends made the long trip to El Paso to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for their Spartans.
“I’m proud of all the coaches getting these kids prepared for this game,” said Sergio Osuna, Deniro’s father. “I’ve coached a lot of these kids when they were younger, and seeing them succeed at this level, there’s no words to describe this feeling.”
Coach David Peña was appreciative of the support given to his team by the El Centro community over the course of the past week and getting this game finalized.
“I want to thank the Central Union School Board for their support in approving this game,” said Peña. “I also want to thank our superintendent [Dr. Ward Andrews] and our school administrators. This game would not be possible without their support and the support of all the families and friends who traveled here to El Paso.”
The Spartans (3-0) will face off against another out-of-state foe in Gila Ridge this Friday, September 13, at Cal Jones Field in El Centro. The Hawks (2-0) should provide more of a challenge to the Spartans, as they have already beaten IVL powers in Brawley and Imperial.