It wasn't pretty but the Hilmar varsity football team came out of Lathrop High on top in a defensive battle that was decided in the closing minutes of play.
Eventually the ‘Jackets were able to rally from being down 14-2 to turn the tables and win it 16-14.
“They are really fast, had speed all over the place and we had a tough time matching it. It could have gone either way... it was a battle,” said Hilmar head coach Frank Marques.
For the third time since the 2012 season, the Hilmar Yellowjackets are off to a 2-0 start.
Both of those years (2012-2013) were playoff teams, including the 2013 Section title run.
“The thing is, what I tell them is you only have 10 games guaranteed in your life,” said Marques. “Can you afford to let low in one game? To keep playing at that level we have to respect every team we play, if we expect to be a championship team, they play to that caliber all the time and that is when you know you have a good team, they play the same every time.”
Last Friday was a precedent to that.
The 'Jackets found their match with a much larger team in Lathrop and they rolled with it, matching them up front with their quick and determined front seven, or eight at times, clogging up the middle and making it tough for the Spartans to get anything going.
Hilmar jumped out first on the board with a safety from Xavier Burke after backing up the Lathrop offense inside their own two-yard line in the first quarter.
The Spartans came back in the second with a 60-yard touchdown return followed by a 35-yard touchdown reception from Donald Garland to go up 14-2 with 1:16 left in the half.
Senior quarterback Chase Kindberg got the Yellowjackets back on track after hitting Klay Farris for a 62-yard touchdown in the air with 24 seconds left in the second followed by a two-point conversion that made the score 14-10 at the half.
“Then we just battled back and forth and had a nice drive that ended with a turnover,” said Marques of the second half. “We finally made a nice drive in the fourth.”
That drive led to the 'Jackets marching all the way to the 10-yard line, and on a third down, Kindberg hit Kelby Peres for the go-ahead touchdown and after missing the extra point, the score read 16-14 with five minutes to-go.
Hilmar continued to play with ferocity on defense as they forced Lathrop to punt on the ensuing drive, giving the Yellowjackets the ball once again.
Kindberg immediately fumbled and Lathrop recovered inside Hilmar's 30. The Spartans attempted a 40-yard field goal, but they missed it wide left with 1:20 left.
What followed was Lathrop's defense forcing Hilmar's offense to punt on the next drive but they turned the ball over on the play, setting up Hilmar to take a knee.
On defense, Hilmar held their ground, amassing five sacks for the game, cementing the status of the game on the line. Joey Pereira led the way with 1.5 sacks and tallied seven tackles for the game. Wyatt Amaral, who plays inside linebacker, had a game-high 13 tackles.
Cody Rentfro had seven and Tyler Amarante finished with six tackles behind a defense that allowed no touchdowns in three of four quarters, including shutting out Lathrop in the second half.
Kindberg was 10 of 18 for 164 yards, including two touchdowns to two different receivers in Peres and Farris.
On the ground, the running game was a grind. The Yellowjackets found it rare to score or gain many positive yards after running it 45 times for just 110 yards, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. Cody Rentfro was the top rusher for Hilmar with 102 yards on 25 rushes, averaging 4.1 yards on the ground.
Next for Hilmar is a home game against last year's Southern Athletic League runner-ups in Gustine at 7:30 p.m. Friday.