Aptos High’s Tyler Morgan runs with the football past a St. Ignatius defender during the second quarter of their game Friday night in Aptos.
APTOS — The Aptos High football team waited at the end zone at Trevin Dilfer Field, quietly. The parents slowly walked from the bleachers to the field to join them. Tears rolled down the eyes of many. If they weren’t crying, the light rain dampened their faces.
They all were in silence to hear what coach Randy Blankenship had to say on a cold, damp Friday night. He praised the work of a team that believed in his system and helped bring a league championship to town.
Unfortunately for the players, the journey ended there.
Aptos’ season ended in stunning fashion as St. Ignatius scored the game-winning touchdown with 38 seconds to go to defeat Aptos 35-31 in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division III tournament.
As the roar of the St. Ignatius faithful took over in the final seconds following a game-sealing interception, Aptos players walked slowly to the middle of the field for the postgame handshake. They thanked the fans and then headed to the end zone for Blankenship’s chat.
The seniors then all hugged the non-seniors one at a time, thanking them for being on the team.
“I can’t say enough about the senior class,” Blankenship said. “They showed leadership. For 5-6 years, Aptos wasn’t good, and they didn’t have anyone to look up to. These seniors are leaving, and we can’t repay them.”
St. Ignatius came into the tournament with the worst record at 3-6-1. But they played in the ultra-tough West Catholic Athletic League, where every game is treated like a tournament game.
So perhaps that’s why they didn’t waiver after Aptos held a 24-7 lead at halftime.
And when Aptos seemingly grabbed momentum thanks to a Cody Capuro 1-yard touchdown run to go up 31-21 with 4:48 to play, the Wildcats didn’t fold.
They turned to some trickery.
A 36-yard double-reverse pass from Travis McDow was cradled at the last moment by Mike Pia, and St. Ignatius was suddenly at Aptos’ 11-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Jack Stinn ran in for a touchdown. Only 52 seconds came off the clock, and it was 31-28 Aptos.
“That double-reverse pass that we nearly broke up changed things around,” Blankenship said.
St. Ignatius denied Aptos on three plays. On fourth-and-10 near midfield, Aptos’ Gunner Glaum faked a punt, saw an opening, and ran to try to get the first down. But it closed quickly, and he was stopped four yards shy of the first down.
St. Ignatius got the ball back with 3 minutes to play. Two completions by Stinn put the Wildcats in the red zone. The fast-moving visitors decided to milk the clock, and it worked. Four plays later, Dom Truoccolo put St. Ignatius ahead, barreling 3 yards for a touchdown.
Aptos had 38 seconds to find a miracle. St. Ignatius’ Noah Bull instead sealed the game with an interception.
“We got a blitz, and the ball came right to me,” Bull said. “The whole defense did a great job.”
St. Ignatius scored 28 second-half points and needed all of it after Aptos had a commanding first-half lead.
After trading touchdowns, Powell scored from 3-yards out to give the home team a 14-7 lead with 6:33 to play in the half. After a 3-and-out by St. Ignatius, Aptos barreled down the field again. Once again, it was Powell who snuck in from one yard out for a touchdown that gave the Mariners a 21-7 lead with a minute to play.
St. Ignatius went 3-and-out again, and Aptos capitalized one more time with a 31-yard field goal by Brooks Nicholson.
Aptos took some risks in the second half in hopes of keeping momentum, but St. Ignatius found a way to stop the home team.
Aptos was pinned at its 1-yard line with 5:02 to play in the third quarter. It reached its 47-yard line but faced a fourth down. The Mariners went for it, but a Riggs Powell run to the left side was stopped.
St. Ignatius got the ball back at midfield and scored on three plays. A 34-yard pass from Stinn to Andrew Vollert closed the gap to 24-14 with 17 seconds to play in the quarter.
Aptos went 3-and-out, and St. Ignatius was on the move again. A 10-play drive ended with a Truoccolo 6-yard touchdown run, and the Wildcats led 24-21.
Aptos answered with Capurro’s touchdown but St. Ignatius kept on steaming by all the way to the finish.
Philip Rojas had 118 yards rushing, and Powell tallied 117. Tyler Morgan had 44 yards rushing and one touchdown, and Capurro had 26 yards rushing with a touchdown.
All four are seniors.
Back at the beginning of the season, Blankenship talked about how he wanted to make his team believe in his system. He had come from the San Joaquin Valley with nearly three decades of coaching experience and a couple of championships under his belt.
After the game, he said he was proud of how the team bought into the system.
“I’ll remember how this team loved each other,” Blankenship said. “They never had any doubts. They did things to the best of their ability, and that’s why this hurts so bad.”
Powell was one of the many who said his goodbyes to the rest of the team. A senior, he’ll likely be remembered as one of the most prolific passers in school history.
He walked slowly off the field and was one of a couple players that did not take his helmet off.
“I’ll remember the relationships I had with the players, my teammates,” Powell said.
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