Tip-toeing the sideline as if he was on a tightrope, Gilroy’s Jonathan Rodriguez waited for the high-arcing ball. And waited. And waited. Arms extended, the senior receiver/cornerback made the next-level play late in the second quarter to highlight the Mustangs’ 21-20 win over visiting Sobrato on Friday.
Later in the fourth quarter, Rodriguez batted down a pass on Sobrato’s 2-point conversion attempt to seal the victory. Earlier in the drive, Rodriguez had to leave the game for a couple of plays after being on the receiving end of a blindside block, which drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Bulldogs (0-3). Rodriguez lay almost motionless on the ground for a couple of minutes before walking back to the sideline on his own power.
“After I got hit, I told myself I was going to go in there and get the ball back for us,” he said. “I did what I had to do by batting the ball down. I had to get back in for my boys and secure the ‘W’.”
This was Gilroy’s first win since Aug. 31, 2018. The Mustangs lost their final eight games of that season and dropped four straight to start the 2019 campaign before they forfeited the final six games and cancelled the rest of the season for an off the field incident.
Two weeks ago, they lost their season-opener to Leigh, 59-8, extending their long losing streak. But this year’s team is different from the 2019 version, according to Rodriguez.
“I feel like this team has more fight in us,” he said. “We’re bonding more and it shows. Against Leigh, we got it handed to us, and it was sort of like a wakeup call. We knew we had to come back in practice, put in the work to get this win and that’s what we did.”
While the Mustangs rebounded from the Leigh defeat, the Bulldogs suffered their second consecutive loss by four points or less. Seth Herdenstet’s 12-yard touchdown run—a nifty effort that saw him juke a couple of defenders—cut Sobrato’s deficit to 21-20 with 4 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.
Sobrato opted to go for two points on the conversion attempt, but Gilroy’s defensive line forced Herdenstet to make a quick throw to Seth Iven to the left side of the end zone. A slew of defenders converted on Iven, but it was Rodriguez who had position to bat the ball down.
“Like I told the boys, 10 out of 10 times I’m going for two to go for the win,” Sobrato coach Jubenal Rodriguez said.
This was a homecoming of sorts for Rodriguez, who led Gilroy to its only Central Coast Section championship in 2017—a perfect 13-0 season—before departing a year later to take the job at Monte Vista Christian in Watsonville. With just three seniors suited up for Friday’s game, Rodriguez said he feels great about where the program is headed.
“We’re going to keep learning from this short season and now have two weeks left to improve,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll hit the ground running in the off-season. I still love my team, and I’m excited about the future.”
Gilroy (1-1) closes the season with a home-and-home set with crosstown rival Christopher (2-0), which has looked impressive thus far. The Mustangs relied on a heavy dose of Matt Mendosa, who carried the ball 26 times for 153 yards. That stat is notable because it’s not often a single player will carry the ball over 25 times in a high school game, which speaks to Mendosa’s durability and ability to churn out yards even when met at the line of scrimmage.
Mendoza had TD runs of 28 and 3 yards, and Jadon Perkins had perhaps his best game in a Gilroy uniform, completing 8-of-11 passes for 90 yards with no interceptions. On Rodriguez’s highlight-reel play, Perkins did something spectacular as well, spinning to his right to deftly avoid the Sobrato pass rush before launching a high-arcing ball to the end zone off his back foot.
“I trust my teammates and QB to make the blocks and the plays,” Rodriguez said. “I knew I had to make that play and get my feet in. We’ll do something like that in practice where we’re just having fun and trying to be like the NFL players dragging their toes (to make the catch in-bounds). What happened in practice just transferred to the game, and it felt amazing.”
Rodriguez had five receptions for 67 yards and was part of a defense that responded well after the Bulldogs took the game’s opening possession 63 yards for a TD, capped by Herdenstet’s 15-yard run on a keeper over left guard. Sobrato ran the ball every time on the 10-play drive and before Gilroy even saw the ball offensively, over six minutes had transpired in the game.
However, Gilroy’s defense—Dylan Chirco, Trevor Perez, Lorenzo Lares-Garcia and Estevan Cortez were some of the many Gilroy standouts—contained Sobrato’s run game for the better part of the next two quarters, with the Bulldogs unable to score again until Herdenstet connected with Iven for a 19-yard TD with 1:47 left in the third quarter.
“In year one we’re experiencing highs and lows, lots of spurts of positives followed by spurts of inconsistency,” Rodriguez said. “So in every moment we have to teach these kids about perseverance, accountability and doing your job. If we do that, we can take this, move forward and grow as a program. This one hurts, but we just have to get better.”
Iven had another solid game going both ways, with three receptions for 55 yards and recording two tackles for losses on defense. Herdenstet had a breakout performance, running for 87 yards on 18 carries while passing for 75 yards. Trey Bringuel finished with 68 yards on 17 carries. In addition to Iven, Rodriguez liked the play of defensive linemen Tarun Singh, Izrael Pulido and Jorge Mendoza.