LYFORD — After suffering a tough loss last week, the Lyford Bulldogs were determined to return to form during their final non-district tuneup Friday.
Lyford’s explosive offense showed its true colors early and often as the Bulldogs (3-1) rolled past the Santa Maria Cougars (2-2) in a 52-6 victory at home. Not to be outdone, Lyford’s defense contained Santa Maria’s usually efficient offense.
“Last week, we had a little sour taste in our mouth after that loss. Our preparation was better this week,” Lyford coach Jerry Jauregui said. “We’ve had some injuries, a little adversity, and like I told them, adversity is just like life, and it’s what you do after the adversity that matters. The boys did a good job today, got after it, and I’m proud of them. Still some stuff to clean up though.”
The Bulldogs had several athletes sidelined during the Week 4 bout, causing some changes in personnel. Senior Justin Vela, typically a dynamic receiver, was moved to running back. On Lyford’s first offensive play, he showcased his speed and scored a 91-yard rushing touchdown. Vela added scoring runs of 25 and 29 yards in the first half, displaying good vision and a quick burst to cruise through lanes and up the field.
“I felt good. I just came ready. I was looking for the holes and ready to go score,” Vela said. “I just saw the holes and they couldn’t wrap up on me, so I just took off and scored. There’s extra work for us this week, and we’ll be ready to go next week. We’ll be better. Our offense is dangerous, our defense is shutdown and I don’t think no one can score on us.”
Senior Brandon Nunez got the start at quarterback and played well to lead Lyford’s offense. He powered his way through Santa Maria’s defense and escaped tackles to contribute to the virtually unstoppable run game.
Nunez scored on a 25-yard carry during Lyford’s second possession. Though he didn’t throw often, Nunez delivered a perfectly placed ball for a 50-yard passing touchdown to junior Noah Guzman in the second quarter. The Bulldogs held a 32-6 lead at halftime.
“Our starting quarterback (Osmar Martinez) is out, so we changed things to fit the strengths of our backup quarterback (Nunez),” Jauregui said. “I think it was a good plan by offensive coordinator Doug Ames and our defensive coordinator Victor Rubalcaba.”
Santa Maria’s opening drive started on Lyford’s 43-yard-line after a blundered kickoff by the Bulldogs. The Cougars went three-and-out as Lyford’s defensive line, led by junior Jordan DeLuna, quickly asserted itself.
The Cougars responded on their second possession. Junior quarterback Chris Ibarra and sophomore running back Esiah Gracia connected on a pass, and both broke off good runs to cross into Bulldogs territory after a fourth-and-1 pickup. Gracia turned the ensuing play into a 46-yard rushing touchdown, tying the game at 6 during the first quarter after both teams missed PATs.
“When we actually started blocking well, continued to keep pressing, good things started to happen,” Cougars coach Israel Gracia said. “I’m proud of these boys. They continued to fight, got a little banged up, and they fought through it.”
The Bulldogs’ defense locked everything down after the score. DeLuna, junior Carlos Martinez, sophomore Elijah Vela, senior Gavin Martinez and junior Oscar Alaniz dominated in the box to keep the Cougars from running. Sophomore David Caballero and senior Manny Vela led Lyford’s suffocating secondary defense.
Lyford’s defense forced four three-and-outs, two turnovers-on-downs and recorded two interceptions courtesy of Caballero and sophomore Aiden Olivas.
During the second half, Lyford moved Olivas to quarterback and used a heavy dose of junior Alex Rosas in the backfield to eat up the clock with long drives. After using most of the third quarter on a 70-yard scoring drive, Olivas rushed for a 1-yard touchdown.
Santa Maria’s defense almost kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone on the drive with a strong series led by juniors Jordan Ramirez and Nathan DeLaRosa inside the 5, but Olivas scored on fourth down. The Cougars notched two turnovers as Ramirez reeled in an interception during the second quarter and they forced a fumble in the third.
“Speed kills, and we weren’t able to make tackles. Had a little breakdown on the line, and weren’t able to get things right,” Israel Gracia said. “We’re young, and I think we got hit in the mouth and our eyes kind of popped open a bit. We’re going to take that, and next time we face a good football team like that, we’ll be better.”
Caballero had a 68-yard rushing touchdown to end the third quarter, and Nunez busted through a solo tackle attempt to add a 47-yard rushing touchdown during the final two minutes.
Aside from a plethora of penalties and inconsistency with extra points — Lyford was 4-for-7 on PATs and failed to convert one two-point attempt — the Bulldogs put in a solid effort to give them some momentum heading into the District 16-3A Division I season, which begins next Friday against Falfurrias. Santa Maria will travel to Progreso for a non-district contest.
“I’ve been preaching to the boys, this is our last cleanup game before district. That’s our No. 1 goal, just get ready for district. I think (this win) gives them a little confidence going into district,” Jauregui said.