By GERARDO RECINOS
There are two magic numbers for Alhambra’s football team. The first is one, and the second in eight.
Despite a heartbreaking loss on Friday night, the deal is simple, win and you’re in. That’s one. The second is eight. Of the 35 players on the Bulldog roster, only eight are seniors with prior varsity experience.
Alhambra’s 20-19 loss to Northgate on Oct. 28, hurt, big time. But all hope is not yet lost for a North Coast Section berth.
Even another loss could still lead to a berth, but a win should cement a chance to play in more than one game in November.
Before the season started Hern said his team was young, and as such there would be growing pains. That couldn’t have been clearer on senior night. The line of players being honored was shorter than any in recent memory.
But for 45 minutes of play the Bulldogs looked good on defense. They forced the Broncos to punt on their first three possessions, and then forced a turnover after consecutive sacks from senior Lenny Castro and junior Nico Marieiro.
Alhambra got on the board first off a six-yard touchdown run by quarterback Daymyn Blalock.
The problem was the play on the offensive side of the ball.
“Credit to them, they switched between coverages and fronts, they blitzed, they kind of threw the kitchen sink at us,” Coach Alan Hern said. “We had to do it ‘on the fly’. It definitely made it more difficult to execute some of our stuff than we had hoped for.”
Hern said at times players missed key blocks in situations that could have sprung big plays in the running game, which has tailed off since the injury of running back Daniel Boyd.
Senior Austin Edwards has taken on the heavy load with junior varsity call up Donovan Rubin getting carries as well.
Alhambra blanked Northgate in the first quarter, but the Broncos scored less than a minute into the second quarter on a one-yard plunge by running back Gavin West.
That seemed to be the way Alhambra would play all night. They had solid spurts from the defense, which had been suspect earlier in the season. Hern called it progress despite the loss, but wished the offense had done more to close out the ball game.
Blalock hit Thomas McDonald for a 46-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and connected with a wide-open Trent Greene from 15 yards out on what looked like a busted coverage by the Broncos.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, every possession mattered, and Hern’s offense couldn’t manage to put the game away completely, allowing Northgate to linger.
An interception by junior Jet Noland was with the Broncos marching into Bulldog territory was wasted when Blalock’s pass was picked off in the red zone by Dimarco Ventura. That ensuing Northgate drive however was snuffed out by Mason Yeager’s second interception in as many weeks.
Neither team seemed to want to win the game. Both made crucial mistakes in situations to put themselves in a position to win, but Alhambra could take comfort in knowing they lead.
Yeager’s interception put Alhambra on the Northgate 37-yard line. That should’ve been it. The Bulldogs wound down plenty of time so that even though they were going to go three and out, Northgate would have to travel a long way after they fielded the ensuing punt.
Alhambra lined up in punt formation, but the ball was never kicked. Rather than try to pin the Broncos back inside their own 20-yard with just over two minutes left, Hern elected to go for a fake.
“We were in a situation where we’re trying to win, not play to not lose,” Hern said of his decision to not punt the ball. “We got a look that we thought we could run the fake against, but we just didn’t get the blocking and the run we thought we could.”
With the ball on their 35-yard line, the Broncos would also be forced to punt on the ensuing possession, but with little time left on the clock, the match came down to field position.
Nicki Rucki was forced to punt the ball from the Alhambra 16-yard line after Northgate got to the quarterback Blalock. Rucki got a hold of the ball, but a bad Bulldog bounce put the Broncos inside Alhambra territory to start their drive.
Briefly, it looked like the Bulldogs would escape. It all came down to a fourth down a long play where backup quarterback Mark Shaffer connected with Ventura for a 26-yard gain.
Two plays later a well-designed screen pass to senior Chris Moser allowed the Broncos to score. Nate Greene delivered a key block for the Broncos to spring Moser.
With 39 seconds the Bulldogs had no shot at scoring after the Broncos took the lead.
“We know that we want to be 5-5 and play well against our rival team to get in,” Hern said of the potential role of spoiler the Bulldogs can play next week against College Park. “It resonates with them. That’s the positive in kind of a tough defeat like this, they still have a lot to play for.”