Despite the roar of the student section and band back in the stands for Pitman High School’s season opener, the Pride varsity football team fell to Central Valley High 33-14 Friday night after a game marred by second half mistakes.
The defeat was Eric Reza’s first game as Pitman’s new head coach and despite the loss, he was happy to be in front of a crowd once again after a shortened COVID season with limited attendance last spring.
“It was really nice. Everything was back on, and I love that,” Reza said.
Junior Drew Walker and senior Evan Kiely both took turns under center in the loss as Reza tries to figure out who his starting quarterback will be. Kiely played a majority of snaps, finishing the night 6-11 with 65 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“He did a great job,” Reza said of Kiely. It was his first-ever start as a varsity quarterback, and he also serves as the Pride’s kicker. “…There were just some circumstances there where a lot of times they weren't in a good situation…It's kind of hard to do what you really want to do when you're back up against the wall, and I just don't have that experienced quarterback yet to just say, ‘Hey, let’s go.’”
Central Valley jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 13-play touchdown drive to start the game, followed by a 23-yard field goal after Walker fumbled a snap to put the ball back in the Hawks’ hands. Pitman answered back with a 29-yard touchdown from Kiely to Joey Stout and made it 10-7, and the Pride went into halftime still trailing by three.
At halftime, Reza told his team to “go back to basics.”
“Keep walking and keep talking. Obviously, [Central Valley] had a better second half, so you give them a lot of credit. They did a good job. So, we’re just going to have to go back to the drawing board and get back at it,” Reza said.
Kiely connected with receiver Dylan Freeman to jump ahead 14-10 at the beginning of the second half, but Central Valley responded with a 20-yard touchdown pass of their own from quarterback Robert Tiscareno to running back Jose Mendoza and never looked back.
Up 17-14, a field goal by the Hawks and a pick-six by Kiely in the fourth quarter gave Central Valley a 26-14 lead, and a fumbled snap on the Pride’s next possession put their opponent in place to score the final nail in the coffin with a six-yard rushing touchdown by Elijah Deleon.
The Pride surrendered four turnovers and committed numerous penalties during the game, but there were some bright spots on defense, including an interception by Nathan Magallon near the end of the first half and a fumble recovery by Anthony Manzo.
“Defensively for about three quarters, we did really, really well,” Reza said. “But we definitely were right there. We just missed some tackles and we have to clean that up.”
Next Friday, the Pride will travel to Lincoln High School in Stockton for their second non-league game at 7:15 p.m.