The Aptos High football team nearly let a playoff win slip away for a second consecutive year.
This time, however, the defense made a miraculous stand.
Two big sacks by Alec Bonsall near the Aptos goal line in the final minute helped the Mariners hold off Saratoga 28-24 on Friday night in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs.
With the win, Aptos will face Monterey, 41-0 winners over Soledad, next week at a time and place to be determined. It is likely the game will be somewhere in Monterey, be it at the high school or Monterey Peninsula College, since Monterey is the No. 1 seed in the bracket.
Aptos, the No. 5 seed, didn’t score in the second half. It took a 28-7 lead into halftime thanks to a nine-yard touchdown run by Elijah Marta, one of the many Aptos running backs.
Saratoga began inching back into the game. It got a quick score to start the third quarter and then took advantage of a stalled Aptos running game, which had been complicated by a couple of injuries.
Saratoga got a field goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to cut its deficit to 28-24.
Aptos got to within the Saratoga 20-yard line but couldn’t score. Saratoga made its final push, getting all the way to Aptos’ 3-yard line before being stuffed.
Brodie Bennet had a touchdown run, and quarterback Alex Joh threw a touchdown pass to Bonsall in the first half.
The playoff win was Aptos’ first since 2003, when it won it all.
In between then, the Mariners had dropped five consecutive opening-round playoff games. This included last year’s 35-31 heartbreaker to St. Ignatius of San Francisco, a game in which Aptos had a 24-7 lead at half.
It looked like a similar fate was coming Aptos’ way until the defense, which had been stellar in the second half of games all season, stepped up again.
• Soquel 49, Carmel 42: At Breaker Stadium at Pacific Grove, the Knights advanced to the second round of the CCS Division IV tournament by defeating the highly touted Padres.
Carmel finishes its season with a 9-2 record, its only two losses coming at the hands of the Knights.
“This was a great game,” said Soquel coach Ron Myers. “We were really moving the ball.”
Soquel won’t know its opponent until later today, when Pacific Grove travels to Sacred Heart Prep for a 1 p.m. contest.
Fabiano Hale put the Knights up for good late in the fourth quarter by scoring his fifth touchdown of the night. He also notched a two-point run to give Soquel a seven-point lead.
In all, Hale had nine touchdowns in two games against Carmel.
It was Hale who helped power Soquel to an early 21-7 lead. Carmel rallied back with a kickoff return for a touchdown. The two teams went back and forth, with Carmel having a 42-41 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
Lucas Cordoza and Andrew Schmidt each scored a touchdown for Soquel.
The playoff win was Soquel’s first since 2004, ending a three-game losing streak. They’re in the final four for the sixth time and just the second since the turn of the century.
Carmel saw its five-game winning streak at Breaker Stadium come to an end. They had won two Shoe Games and three playoff games at rival Pacific Grove’s field before Friday night.
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