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Defense dominant against Los Banos as Yellowjackets pick up first victory
Hilmar yellowjackets

Hilmar High’s first offensive possession of the night ended in calamity – Los Banos’ Jose Esquivel blocked McKade Jensen’s punt and recovered it himself, in the end zone. 

It’s the kind of play that would’ve demoralized most teams. 

But the Yellowjackets aren’t most teams. 

Last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division V runners-up countered with a 10-play drive that tied the score and the ’Jackets went on to post a 21-7 victory over the Tigers at McSweeney Field on Friday night. 

That first possession of the game for the Yellowjackets (1-1) resembled something out of last week’s 20-14 loss to Patterson, when they did just enough to resemble the team many expect them to be, but not enough to earn the victory. 

“We had a lot guys last week who were first-time starters and got their first taste of being ‘the guy,’” said head coach Frank Marques. “Tonight, we had a lot of guys step up and be the player we thought they could be.” 

Getting through the game’s opening minutes was a good sign in Marques’ eyes. 

“The kids just battled tonight,” said the Hilmar coach, now in his 20th season at the helm. “They let the little things go. I always tell them it’s not what happened, but what’s going to happen that counts. They took a big step forward tonight.” 

After falling behind 7-0, Hilmar tied the game with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter when Jax Branco rushed in from 3 yards out.  

From there, Hilmar’s defense took over and forced Los Banos to turn the ball over on downs on each of its two first-half possessions. 

The Yellowjackets attempted a 38-yard field goal that would’ve given them a three-point edge, but Jensen’s try hit the crossbar and fell harmlessly to the turf as time expired. 

Hilmar’s D forced the Tigers to turn it over on downs to start the third quarter, and the offense made LB pay. 

After a 1-yard gain by quarterback Hudson Azevedo, Luis Vargas sprinted in from 25 yards out. Jensen’s PAT gave Hilmar a 14-7 lead it would not relinquish. 

The Yellowjackets’ defense, which forced Los Banos to go three-and-out on its ensuing possession, wasted little time putting the game out of reach. A seven-play, 54-yard drive – a 30-yard completion from Azevedo to Luke Cox put the ball inside the red zone – was capped by a 4-yard Vargas run to produce the final margin. 

The Tigers’ final four possessions of the evening resulted in two turnovers on downs and two fumbles. 

Junior defensive lineman Dakota Maynard caused the first fumble, which was recovered by line mate Saul Hernandez, when he sacked backup quarterback Wyatt McBride for a 7-yard loss. 

“Coach put me in and I knew my job,” said Maynard. “I was supposed to watch the quarterback in case he ran. When he dropped back, I worked my pass rush and just had to make sure he didn’t get by me.” 

On the Tigers’ final possession of the game, McBride was sacked again. When the ball squirted away, Maynard pounced on it. 

“Last week, defensively, something was missing,” said Maynard. “This week we found it. We knew we had a job to do and we got the job done.” 

Offensively for Hilmar, Vargas carried the ball 19 times for 124 yards and two scores, while Azevedo kept it 14 times for 58 yards. 

It was Branco, however, who drew praise from his coach afterward. 

Branco ran the ball five times for 22 yards and one TD, a caught five passes for 35 yards. He also blocked effectively for the ’Jackets on the edge. 

“It felt like we were too amped up last week,” said Branco. “We just need to relax a little bit and play our game.” 

Next week, Hilmar will travel to Sonora to face the 1-1 Wildcats at historic Dunlavey Field. After falling to Oakdale in overtime, the Wildcats earned their first win of the season with a 40-10 win over Ripon.