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Coyotes’ comeback falls short in Gustine
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Denair’s Christian Vrioni runs the ball Friday night against Gustine (COLBY GOMES/The Journal).

What was at first a defensive struggle between Denair and Gustine turned into a fourth quarter scoring frenzy Friday night. Twenty points were scored in the final frame in what eventually resulted in an 18-14 victory for the Reds.

It was a fast-moving game in the first half, lasting just over 30 minutes. It was much to do with the run-heavy offense of Gustine head coach Collin Lane. Leading the charge on the ground was sophomore running back Joao Palomino, who started the scoring in the first quarter with a six yard touchdown run. Palomino finished the game with 109 yards on 22 carries.

Following a touchdown pass from Zander Leyva to wideout Danny Quezada, the game remained 12-0 until the eventful fourth quarter, where most of the momentum swung towards the Denair sideline.

With just over seven minutes to play, a botched snap was recovered by the Coyotes in the Gustine end zone to cut the home team’s lead to 12-6. Frustrated by the miscue, Leyva took matters into his own hands — or legs, in this instance — by breaking loose for a 63-yard touchdown run to extend the Reds’ lead to 18-6.

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Jayden Hensley looks for a way around a Reds opponent on Friday (COLBY GOMES/The Journal).

The Coyotes refused to go quietly into the night, though, as senior quarterback Landen Borges led his team down the field before finding Jesse Ruelas slip out of the back field. The two connected on an 11-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion courtesy of a Christian Vrioni rush made it 18-14 Reds with just under two minutes to play.

And right when things were going wrong for the Reds, they somehow got worse. On the ensuing drive, another botched snap was lost and recovered by the Coyotes, leaving most of the Gustine sideline and bleachers in a state of shock. 

Fortunately for the Reds fans, the shock quickly turned to elation. On the very next play, Borges’ pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and ended up in the hands of Gustine’s Grant Hazan. A pair of kneel downs by Leyva sealed the Gustine win.

The win improves the Reds’ Southern Athletic League record to 2-0 and their overall record to 2-3.

Denair head coach Anthony Armas expressed pride in how his team of just 17 refused to hang their heads despite facing the 12-0 deficit late in the game.

“It was just a battle,” Armas said. “We made a few mental mistakes, which we'll fix, but as far as the effort, it was there. It was a knock down, drag out fight. That team is really physical, and I thought our kids played really physical too. 

“It was honestly really fun to watch,” he continued. “That was a dang good game. I would have liked to be in the stands to watch this one. It was exciting.”

The loss drops the Coyotes’ record to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in league play. They will look to get back on track when they travel to play a 4-1 Le Grand team next week. The key, according to Armas, is for his short roster of athletes to stay healthy.

“This is the first week we are completely healthy. Everybody suited up today, but we were still a little dinged up. Still, we had everybody available. And man, it’s way better than having just 13 players. If we can stay healthy, I still like our chances, even with the low numbers.”