Holtville's run game, strong defense catapult Vikings to come-from-behind win over Army-Navy Academy
ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - "This is exactly what we were hoping for," Joe Heinz, the CIF San Diego Section Commissioner said. This before kickoff of the Division V-AA championship game between the top seeded Holtville Vikings and second seeded Warriors of Army-Navy Academy.
Before the season, Holtville was placed in the newly formed CIF San Diego Section Division V-AA.
"It fits us," Holtville head coach Jason Turner said in the preseason. "This is where we belong as a smaller school and it will give us a chance to put some hardware of the shelves."
The Vikings started the year 2-2 while still trying to figure out their identity, especially at quarterback.
"Our starter last year, Bryce Buscaglia wasn't sure he was going to play this season," Turner said. "So, we started with Fermin Velarde. Bryce eventually showed up and took care of the first two games until sophomore Alonso Cuevas had enough practices."
Cuevas made his first varsity start in week three again Mountain Empire, A 45-8 win in which Cuevas finished 12-19 for 191 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
"We also felt we could use Bryce in other roles," Turner said.
As it turns out, Buscaglia would make one of the biggest plays of the season for the Vikings in the CIF championship game. Buscaglia's fourth quarter interception led to a Vikings touchdown that would prove to be the game winner in a 27-21 win over Army-Navy. Buscaglia also played a big role as a wide receiver during the season for Holtville.
"At the beginning of the season we had a lot of uncertainty around who was returning," Turner said. "Our total program numbers were at an all time low. This uncertainty continued at the QB position."
Turner says the Vikings week one win over Southwest along with the coaches staff's unique way of handling some athletes change of mind.
"Once we beat Southwest, people started believing we could win," Turner said. "As coaches, we allowed kids to come out later than normal, out of survival."
Turner said the real belief came in week two of the regular season against Imperial.
"With a depleted team, we hung with Imperial," Turner said. "Although the wheels fell off in the fourth quarter, the game was 15-14 midway through the third quarter, that was eye opening."
Turner says the Vikings started the season with 36 players on varsity and junior varsity combined. By season's end, the Vikings had 57.
After the 2-2 start, the Vikings rattled off seven straight wins including a week five win over Calexico, a win over two time Desert League champion Palo Verde on the road in which Holtville completed three consecutive onside kicks to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat. Holtville also won a thriller against Vincent Memorial 27-25.
A year ago, Holtville didn't get the bounces, this year they did and they made the most of them all the way to the CIF championship game.
Holtville scored first and went into the half tied with Army-Navy 7-7. Holtville found themselves trailing 14-7 late into the third quarter. The Vikings would use a strong run game led by sophomore Enrique Aramas (23-152-1) and senior Griffin Garcia (14-78-1) to their advantage by setting up play action passes.
It was the Holtville sophomore class that would provide key offensive moments for the Vikings. Sophomore Bradyn Terrill only had two catches. One gave the Vikings a first down on fourth and five on the Vikings first scoring drive in the first quarter. Terrill got five yards and one inch on the catch. Terrill would later catch a 12 yard strike from Cuevas giving Holtville a 21-14 fourth quarter lead. Fellow sophomore Alan Carrillo also caught a touchdown and became one of Cuevas' favorite targets all season long.
Despite the early season uncertainty, the Vikings came together with win their first ever Desert League title and first CIF San Diego Section championship since 2013.
"I'm really excited for the kids, happy for the kids," Turner said. "After last season, we had a tough season and just evident by the way we played Palo Verde and Vincent (Memorial ) those last second games, it's absolutely, this team is resilient and I'm just proud to be their head coach."