SAN JOSE — Maybe it was the full moon on Friday the 13th, or the long drive from Napa, but the Vintage High football team didn’t look like itself in the first half Friday night.
Bellarmine Prep, looking to regain its status as a West Catholic Athletic League power, grabbed a 15-point halftime lead and held on for a 21-13 victory over the Crushers at San Jose City College.
“Man, they played a great game. All credit to them. I mean, they were the hammer tonight,” Vintage head coach Dylan Leach said. “And they beat us up. So that’s a good program. They have played really tough teams. I told our guys going in, they’re not playing any slouches. They played two teams ranked really high in California and so they were battle-tested. They came in and they took it to us in the first half.”
Vintage (3-1) opened its final preseason game as strong as it could have hoped, containing the always tricky double-wing offense Bellarmine (1-2) has run for years. The Crushers forced a quick three-and-out and were on the move.
When Mauricio Castro opened Vintage’s ensuing drive with a 16-yard burst down the sideline, the Crushers looked ready to encore their 26-14 victory over the Bells last year at Memorial Stadium.
Jacob Aaron found Bryce Eade for a 16-yard pass to keep the drive alive and, a few plays, later the junior quarterback connected with a diving Billy Birdsall on a 27-yard touchdown pass. The two-point-conversion pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage to keep it 6-0.
The Vintage defense stopped a promising Bells drive late in the first quarter, standing tall on fourth and short. But the Crushers’ offense never retained their groove from early in the first quarter, and Bellarmine started to resemble its past glory in the second quarter.
Aizon Henry was an issue all evening, as the Bells’ senior running back finished with 107 rushing yards on 20 carries. Henry got the first points for Bellarmine on a 5-yard touchdown run with 6:41 left in the second quarter.
The Crushers quickly went three-and-out, and a punt from its 1-yard line gave the Bells the ball inside Vintage territory. Wade Smith’s 18-yard pass to Ben Richards put Bellarmine at the 1-yard line, before Adam Hayashi bounced to the right of the offensive line and cut in for a 14-6 lead.
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“The second quarter was the end of their scoring. So I mean, if we were able to stop them on that last drive and it’s a 14-6 ball game, then it’s a whole different game,” Leach said. “You want to win the last two minutes of every half. They did that in that half and they did it in the second half, too. So again, the credit goes to them. They deserve their win tonight.”
The Crushers didn’t make it easy. They received the ball to start the second half and had a prime opportunity to score with four minutes remaining in the quarter. But an interception on a broken play kept the momentum squarely in Bellarmine’s hands. Four plays later, Reese Burrill followed his blockers up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown run and 21-6 lead.
Vintage had Bill Chaidez under center for most of the second half, but was forced to punt on its first drive after the break. The Bellarmine offense slowly marched down the field, but wasn’t gaining the large chunks it had in the second quarter. The Vintage defense held strong and recorded two sacks to force the Bells to punt.
A few short passes and strong running from talented sophomore running back Dylan Smith pushed the Crushers down the field. Jeremy Bradley evaded a few tackles and found the end zone on a 16-yard burst to cut the Bells’ lead to 21-13.
Bellarmine attempted to burn some clock, but the Crushers’ defense remained fresh in the second half and got the ball back.
Black magic appeared to have cursed Vintage on its following drive. With less than four minutes to go, Chaidez scrambled and found Anthony Martinez down the field for an 18-yard catch to keep the drive alive. But on the immediate tackle by Henry, the ball came loose in and was declared a fumble recovery for Bellarmine. Vintage continued to fight and had one more chance with less than a minute remaining, but a failed fourth-down pass attempt ended the game.
Vintage has a bye next week and will welcome Casa Grande of Petaluma to open Vine Valley Athletic League play on Sept. 27.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and, you know, tomorrow the sun’s gonna come up and we’ll be just fine,” Leach said. “But I think the bye week will be huge and the fact that we’re just a little beat up. When you play a schedule that we did, you’re going to get a little banged and bruised.
“But we feel great going into League. We feel like we’re battle-tested from playing some really good teams in preseason. We’re going to hopefully be healthy and get back to doing what we do.”