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Yellowjackets best Pride in first-ever season meeting
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Caden Bailey gains yards for the Yellowjackets Friday night during the game against Pitman. Hilmar won 24-14 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The Hilmar Yellowjackets and Pitman Pride are no strangers to each other as the two teams have come together on multiple occasions for scrimmages. And while the intensity was always high in the scrimmages, they didn’t match Friday’s atmosphere at McSweeney Field, where Hilmar came away with a 24-14 nonconference victory. 

The Pride jumped out to a 6-0 lead after the opening drive of the game when a deflected pass from senior quarterback Andrew Azevedo landed softly in the arms of sophomore wideout Lawson Aviles. They were the only points punched in by Pitman until early in the fourth quarter.

Following the early score, the Hilmar defense made life difficult for Azevedo, pressuring him on four occasions and forcing two interceptions and two fumbles. He finished the game completing 10 of 24 passes for 99 yards with a pair of touchdowns to Aviles. Despite the struggles, he earned high praise from Hilmar head coach Frank Marques.

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Pitman's Andrew Azevedo hands the ball off to Matthew Burciaga (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“That quarterback played a really good game and they do have some pretty good receivers. Overall, I was really impressed with Pitman’s offense. I think they’re going to score a lot of points this year with that kid at quarterback,” he said. “For us, we just kind of tightened up our defense and were able to shut things down. They had a few penalties that slowed them down too, but we got things straightened out against what I think is a really good team.”

Offensively for the Yellowjackets, an unfamiliar face took the majority of their snaps at the quarterback position after junior starter Caden Bailey briefly left the game after taking six snaps in the first quarter. While it seemed as if he was injured, it was all part of the Yellowjackets’ plan.

Replacing Bailey under center was junior Merek Ellerd. Meanwhile, Bailey returned to the field after two snaps, lining up as a running back and slot receiver. By game’s end, Ellerd completed 7 of 17 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown passes to Caden Wood and Jason Moniz while Bailey rushed for 98 yards on 12 carries. Ellerd and Bailey also connected for 17 yards through the air.

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Pitman's Lawson Aviles runs in a 2 point conversion for the Pride (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Marques explained his decision to hand the quarterback keys to Ellerd while moving Bailey around the field.

“With Bailey at quarterback, everybody tends to focus on the run,” he said. “We know Merek could throw the ball, so it gave us another weapon. He’s a really good athlete. I probably should have done it sooner, but we found a real treasure in him. He did a hell of a job tonight.”

“I was ready for this,” Ellerd said. “We were practicing this all week. We’ve been going over new things, new formations to throw the other teams off and I guess it just happened to work. My goal is to just be a leader and be there for the team for whatever they need.”

As for the Pride, the second endzone connection between Azevedo and Aviles came with just over 10 minutes to play to make it a 17-14 game. Following Azavedo’s second fumble with 3:46 left on the clock, Hilmar's senior running back Logan Cardoso punched the ball in from two yards out to ice the game.

“This was one of those games where we had a lot of errors. It’s a young team,” Marques said. “Honestly, we’re lucky we got out of here with a win because I was really impressed with Pitman’s kids. They played really hard. They’re going to be a good football team.”

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Hilmar's Jason Moniz celebrates his 34 yard touchdown against Pitman (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Friday’s game marked the end of pre-league play for both teams. The Yellowjackets head into the Trans-Valley League with a 3-2 record while the Pride enter Central California Athletic League play with a 1-4 record.

Hilmar and Pitman each have byes this week before kicking off play in their respective leagues on Sept. 29. That night, the Yellowjackets will be opening TVL play with a home matchup against Livingston. As for Pitman, they will welcome Downey (Modesto) to Joe Debely Stadium.