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Bulldogs rally for win over Southwest

November 09, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

The Calexico versus Southwest Imperial Valley League football game in El Centro here Thursday could go down as an instant classic.

In a few years people involved will look back and talk about "that" game as one of the best games ever played between the schools, if not one of the best ever played in the Imperial Valley.

Looking at a 14-point deficit, Calexico battled back, tied the contest, sent it into overtime and won its biggest game of the year 22-21 on a two-point conversion.

"Even though we were down, I wasn't really worried about it at all," said Bulldog quarterback Odin Ayala. "There was never any doubts in anyone's minds at all."

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If there's any person who could be labeled as the hero of the game, it would be Ayala. A junior, the first-year varsity starter finished with 182 yards passing, hit 13-of-16 passes and threw for two touchdowns, including one in overtime. He also threw the game-winning two-point conversion pass.

"When I was going up to the line (on the two-point conversion) I was thinking that I had to make a good pass so the receiver could catch it," said Ayala. "If there's anyone I'd thank for this, it'd be the coaches for having the confidence in me to do this."

Said Bulldog coach Richard Gonzalez of his decision to go for the two-point conversion and the win: "There was never a question about going for the two-point conversion. I had decided on that when the fourth quarter was coming to an end. I knew that if we scored, we were going to go for two."

The Calexico overtime touchdown and two-point try followed a 13-yard touchdown run by Albert Gradillas that gave Southwest the lead. Pee Wee Salazar added the extra point, giving Southwest a 21-14 advantage.

After being down 14-0 at the half, Ayala led Calexico to two scoring drives in the second half, and helped his team rack up 175 yards in the second half (139 passing).

On the flip side, after giving up 99 yards of offense through two quarters, including a 59-yard touchdown pass from Matt Petree to Terrance Johnson to give the Eagles a two-touchdown lead, the Calexico defense locked up Southwest in the second half.

Not counting 25 yards given up in overtime, the Bulldogs held the Eagles to only 10 yards of offense in the second half.

"The whole defense played a great game. We have to give everyone credit," said Calexico linebacker Raul Ochoa. "The defensive backfield covered them really well, the backers kept pressure on them all game and the D-line did a good job of opening up holes for the backers. It was just a good all-around team effort."

Ochoa and his defensive teammates finished with 15 tackles for loss for -62 yards, forced three turnovers and held the Eagle quarterbacks, Petree and Jesse Hoyt, to a 13 percent passing completion rate (2-for-15).

While the Bulldogs controlled the game in the second half and in crunch time, things didn't look promising in the first half.

On Calexico's seventh play of its first drive, Ayala threw an interception that was returned 80 yards for a touchdown by Pee Wee Salazar. Salazar added the extra point to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead 3 minutes, 9 seconds into the game.

On the first play of its first possession of the game, following a Calexico three-and-out, Petree and Johnson hooked up for the team's second score. Salazar added the extra point to give Southwest what seemed to be a commanding 14-point lead that it took into the intermission.

"We just shot ourselves in the foot in the first half, with turnovers and touchdowns we gave up. We just gave them those touchdowns. And we talked about that at the half," said Gonzalez. "But I felt confident we could take over in the second half. I knew we could score on them."

Then the Bulldogs woke up.

On its second possession of the second half, Javier Alatorre capped a seven-play, 49-yard drive with a score from one yard out. Ochoa then added a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 14-8 with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter.

Down 14-8 with 2:03 left in the game, Calexico put together a four-play, 46-yard scoring drive that took only 40 seconds. Ayala connected with Manuel Gomez for a 21-yard score, tying the game at 14-14. A missed extra point sent the game into overtime, where Calexico claimed the victory.

"I just have to give praise to my entire coaching staff," Gonzalez said. "They did a great job of getting our players ready. Most of the time the head coach gets the credit for what the team does, but a lot of it has to do with the staff. They've been working with the players since January and what we've done is just an accumulation of the whole year's work."

Said Southwest coach Jerry Storts: "Calexico's a good team. You can't take anything away from them. This was a good ball game, but when you lose by one again, it's really disappointing. In five games we lost, we lost by a total of 14 points. So a play here or a play there in each game, we're looking at a 9-1 season instead of a 4-6 season."

Southwest finishes the year at 4-6 overall and 2-2 in the IVL and Calexico finishes at 6-2 and 3-1 in the IVL.

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