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Morgan Hill
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November 29, 2023

In defeat, Sobrato stands tall

Even in the midst of defeat, the Sobrato High football players stood tall—especially Jose Reyes, the junior all-everything player who dazzles with his play but even more impressively hasn’t let adversity harden his spirits. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs fell behind early and could never fully recover in a 26-15 loss to visiting Leigh in a Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa Division contest. 

Sobrato fell to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in league play, though it was no fault of Reyes, who produced a spectacular performance that included a 60-yard touchdown reception, a 50 yard punt return for a score and an interception. The latter play saw Reyes return the interception 40 yards to the Leigh 22-yard line with Sobrato trailing 20-15 and with a  golden opportunity to take its first lead of the game. 

It didn’t happen. An intentional grounding call and an incompletion sandwiched in between two sacks brought the Bulldogs’ momentum to a screeching halt. On the ensuing possession, Leigh marched down the field for a TD, covering 55 yards on 11 plays to account for the final score of the game with 11 minutes, 2 seconds remaining.

“Absolutely, we could’ve done more,” Bulldogs coach Billy Vuniwa said. “We just got too far behind. If we could’ve buttoned up that first quarter a little better, it could’ve been a different outcome.”

Indeed, Sobrato got off to an inauspicious start, fumbling the ball on the opening kickoff on an ill-timed lateral. Leigh got the ball at the Sobrato 25-yard line and reached the end zone five plays later, the first of three straight TDs. The Longhorns built a 20-0 lead with 7:41 left in the second quarter when Sobrato finally got on the board. Jacob Turagavou, a sophomore who was making his first-ever varsity start after the injury to Jordan Sheets, delivered a perfectly thrown ball to Reyes over the middle. 

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Reyes caught the ball near the Leigh 45 before streaking to the left sideline and outrunning the Leigh defense to the end zone for the Bulldogs’ first score of the game. Sobrato started to gain some rhythm, as Seth Iven connected on a 35-yard field goal on the team’s next possession to make it 20-9 with 2:15 left until halftime. 

Leigh went three-and-out on the ensuing series before Reyes made another electrifying play, returning the punt 50 yards for a score. The ball actually took a bounce before Reyes got a handle on it, but once he did, he was gone. He made a couple of nifty cuts to avoid defenders before going untouched to the end zone, cutting Sobrato’s deficit to 20-15. 

However, that’s as close as the Bulldogs would get. Even though they allowed just one score in the second half, the offense—hampered by an inability to protect Turagavou—went scoreless. Turagavou was sacked six times and under constant pressure in the second half, which contributed to the team’s offensive woes in the final two quarters. 

“He did pretty good for his first outing,” Vuniwa said. “As far as him throwing longer balls, my game plan was keeping it short. But we needed it, he delivered and he threw an interception which was just a rookie mistake.”

All in all, Turagavou had a nice debut, completing 10-of-20 passes for 163 yards. He looked calm, poised and made plays. Even though he made a couple of mistakes, that goes with the territory for a player who was making his first varsity start under center. 

“Jacob is young, but he’s good,” Reyes said. “He just needs more time in the pocket—that’s all he needs.”

Reyes needs just a bit of daylight to make plays, a testament to his talent and work ethic. Reyes said he gained 20 pounds in the off-season to get to his current weight, and he’s having a breakout season after enjoying a solid sophomore campaign in 2018. Reyes plays multiple positions, including receiver, running back, linebacker, safety, and returning punts and kickoffs. What can’t the guy do? 

“Jose is a special talent and a great, great kid,” Vuniwa said. “He listens, he’s at practice, he’s disciplined in the things he does. He’s just a pleasure to work with, a very positive young man and it shows on the field. His positivity really infiltrates the team.”

Reyes credited his teammates for both of his TDs—”I have to thank my (offensive) line because they gave me time to get down the field,” he said—but it also took field awareness and ability to make the plays he did. Reyes sees where the plays open up and can hit the hole hard or be patient and wait for the play to develop. It’s almost as if Reyes has an out of body experience when he’s about to make something happen. 

“When I get the ball, something just clicks,” he said. “I go into some mode where I see everything. … The difference this year (in being able to make more plays on offense) is experience and getting the opportunity. I know the game better, and that helps a lot.”

Sobrato’s two main weaknesses came from an inability to run the ball—it finished with a woeful negative-33 yards rushing—coupled with the fact it couldn’t stop the run (Leigh rushed for 226 yards on 39 carries). Time and again, when the Bulldogs needed a key stop, the Leigh quarterback would scramble for a big play or gain chunks of yardage on simple QB keepers. 

“We could’ve done a better job of stopping the run,” Reyes said. “Everyone has to keep pushing and communication is key.”

Said Vuniwa: “That QB run killed us every time. There’s a whole slew of things that go into our defense, and we just have to get better as coaches and players. It’s a tough one for the boys, but I think it’s a good lesson.”

The Bulldogs are finding life in the Santa Teresa Division a lot tougher compared to the West Valley Division, the lowest of the three divisions in the BVAL football classification. A key injury to a player like Sheets on an already thin roster doesn’t help; however, Sobrato still has the capability to be competitive and make some noise this season. 

Even though the defense couldn’t make enough key stops, it has the potential to be stout like it was earlier in the season. It can also make some thunderous hits, as the Leigh players can attest. On the Longhorns’ final scoring drive, Sobrato’s Orion Woods and Jona Turagavou unleashed wicked hits, with Turagavou’s missile-like tackle causing the Leigh player to go to the sidelines and being unable to return. 

Sobrato hopes it can get its run game going with Jesse Redmond and Brian Zarate, who formed a nice 1-2 punch a season ago. However, Redmond was appearing in only his first game of the season Saturday due to a turf toe injury he sustained in the summer, and Zarate arrived to the game at halftime after taking his SATs in the morning in Seaside, Vuniwa said. 

Redmond showed his tremendous playmaking ability as he took two swing passes and turned them into plays of 31 and 21 yards, respectively. If Sobrato can get its ground game up and running again, it’ll be a team to be reckoned with throughout the season. Reyes is a player who has to be accounted for on very snap, as he blends talent with a team-first mentality. 

When asked about his goals before the season started, Reyes didn’t mention anything about putting up certain numbers. Rather, he emphasized having strong chemistry with his teammates and being able to push and fight together. Reyes only started playing organized sports as a seventh grader at Martin Murphy, and took up football in his freshman year. He’s come a long way in a short time, and his future looks bright. 

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