Nate Ortiz couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His teammate had just returned a kickoff 21 yards before fumbling the ball away.
Ortiz, who was hustling to deliver a block downfield, alertly scooped it up and was gone, going 58 yards for a touchdown. Ortiz also had two other touchdowns, including an electrifying 63-yard reception, in leading Sobrato High to a 35-7 win over Rancho San Juan-Salinas in a game that was played at Alvarez High on Sept. 11.
After suffering two blowout losses to A-league teams to open the season, the victory was just what the doctor ordered for the Bulldogs, who have a bye this week before opening up Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa Division action against Branham.
“We took some pretty tough losses, but I think it motivated the boys to work harder and to finally get the smell of victory was pretty nice,” Ortiz said.
Said Bulldogs coach Jubenal Rodriguez: “It feels really good. When we were up against two tough A-league teams, it showed us what we needed to work on and you figure out what your weaknesses are right away. We improved in executing our offensive plays, tackling on defense and bending but not breaking.”
Sobrato had to overcome some adversity that its fellow teams in South Santa Clara and San Benito counties haven’t had to deal with—yet. Two weeks before the season started, the Bulldogs were under Covid-19 protocols, forcing them to shut down practice for a little over a week.
Missing six to seven practices in the leadup to a season isn’t exactly a recipe for success, and the Bulldogs found themselves behind from the get-go.
“It put us in catchup mode,” Rodriguez said.
Sobrato overwhelmed Rancho San Juan—a first-year program and Salinas’ newest high school—by hitting a couple of big plays and playing solid red zone defense. Of course, it’s always nice to receive a fortuitous bounce of the ball as Ortiz did on the kickoff return for a TD. Even though the play transpired in rapid-fire motion, Ortiz had plenty of thoughts running through his mind.
“At first when I saw the ball come out, I was upset because I thought the defense was on it,” he said. “But then my eyes lit up and I was able to scoop it up before running as fast as I could to the end zone. It was one of the most bizarre plays I’ve been a part of. It’s something to feed off of now because I happened to be blocking and now we all know to always hustle because you never know what can happen.”
Matt Nguyen and Jacob Laisure also scored TDs for Sobrato, notable because the two are more known for their excellent play on defense. Nguyen is a defensive back but also plays tailback on occasion, and Laisure is an inside linebacker who also doubles as the team’s tight end.
Laisure scored on a 15-yard TD reception and Nguyen a 1-yard scoring run. Safety Trey Bringuel and defensive end Mark Collins had several tackles. Ortiz’s 63-yard TD reception showed the chemistry he and quarterback Seth Hernstedt have built since the Covid spring season.
Lined up in the slot on the left side, Ortiz did a drag route to the middle of the field, where Hernstedt hit him in stride. The 5-foot-8, 147-pound Ortiz immediately turned and ran down the left seam, eventually breaking a shoe tackle at the 10-yard sideline before reaching the end zone.
“I saw the defender coming and stayed calm,” Ortiz said. “I tried to get to the sideline so I could take a better angle to avoid him and trust my speed to get by him. Once he dove for my feet, I tried to time it where if he hit me, my stronger leg would already be on the ground so I could bounce off the tackle pretty well.”
Rodriguz said he appreciates Ortiz’s versatility.
“He is someone we can put at any position: returns kicks, outside linebacker, corner, safety, QB, receiver, running back, anything,” Rodriguez said. “We’re excited for our special teams play.” For the first time in a while, Sobrato’s kickoff return and coverage are having an impact on the game.
Ortiz wanted to play football at a young age, but his mom, Lorena, refused to give him the go-ahead until high school. Things have worked out nicely as in the meantime Nate’s inline hockey career took off. He plays defenseman for Mission Mayhem and competes in tournaments throughout the state from September to July.