SAN MARCOS — It was billed as a battle of 14-6A contenders. A matchup of high-powered running offenses coming into the first district game of the season with identical 4-1 records.
However, the reality of tonight’s game between the San Marcos Rattlers and Del Valle Cardinals didn’t quite live up to the billing, as San Marcos got through their first district test with a 31-15 win.
“Our weekly motto was laser focus and I believe our kids came out with laser focus tonight,” Rattlers coach Mark Soto said. “They were being very physical which is what I like to see.”
The game was competitive in the first half only through the first two drives as both offenses were forced to punt on three-and-outs. That, however, would not be a harbinger of what was to come.
The Rattlers scored on their second drive of the game, with senior quarterback Prudy Calderon finding Julian Perez in the end zone. On the ensuing kickoff, senior defensive back Paul Espinoza recovered a fumble, giving San Marcos the momentum and the ball back in Del Valle territory.
Five plays later, Calderon picked up his second touchdown of the game, this time on the ground as he rushed 12 yards for the touchdown.
In total, San Marcos scored four unanswered touchdowns in the first half. The two other scores came on another Calderon keeper and a second Julian Perez touchdown catch.
Del Valle, known for their rushing attack, including two feature backs in Chris Martinez and Alfred Grear, were limited by the San Marcos defense early. They found some success late in the second quarter, getting into San Marcos territory, but they were unable to convert on a 4th and four, with the Rattlers stuffing the conversion attempt one yard short of the marker.
Grear also broke free for a big gain with seconds remaining in the half, but after spiking the ball to stop the clock, the Cardinals went deep, but senior defensive back Demarcus Hall made a highlight play interception in the end zone to close out the first half.
The Cardinals eventually found their way onto the scoreboard on their first drive in the second half. After Vincent Campos handed it off to three different running backs to march down the field, he threw a 25-yard touchdown strike to La’thaniel Washington.
On the next Rattlers possession, San Marcos leaned heavily on their passing game to get down the field. They got all the way down to the Del Valle 12, but could not find the end zone, so Frankie Menchaca delivered on a 30-yard field goal attempt.
Del Valle then started deep in San Marcos territory after several penalties were charged to the Rattlers on the kickoff. The Cardinals drove it all the way down to the three-yard line, but the defense made a key play, stopping a run for no gain, and forcing a fumble recovered by Josh Banda.
This, however, would be a double-edged sword, as it forced San Marcos to start close to their own end zone. After losing yardage on first down, Calderon was taken down in the end zone for a safety.
But the Rattler defense was hardly done making plays. With Del Valle on the Rattlers’ 29-yard line, the defense came up with another takeaway, with J.W. Reeder recovering a fumble.
Del Valle would find the end zone once again as Greer broke off another big run, this time around the right side for 95-yards and a touchdown, the last score of the game.
Hall, who had already come up with an impactful interception in the end zone earlier in the game, slammed the door shut on any Cardinals late comeback hopes, intercepting Campos who was looking to the end zone once again.
“Coming into this game, we knew what we had to do, and we just wanted to finish this week and have laser focus,” Hall said. “As our coach said, we just had to stop the run and as a secondary, we would do what we do best.”
In total, the defense came away with six takeaways. Defensive lineman Gabe Urrutia now has consecutive games with sacks and has already eclipsed last season’s sack total. He’ll enter week seven with five sacks.
“The (defensive) line is really controlling the line of scrimmage right now and that’s very important for us,” Soto said.
Calderon and his receivers seem to be finding their rhythm. They followed a solid performance last week with another one tonight, and are adding another dimension to San Marcos’ offense.
Calderon completed 20 of his 31 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Always a threat on the run, he was also able to total 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“Early on in the season we were real big on running the ball, but we know we can’t be a one-dimensional offense,” Calderon said. “Just recently we started getting on the same page and we’re building confidence.”
Jamon Johnson finished with 68 yards, but he seemed to be suffering an injury and was subbed out in the second half.
Elijah Aikens led all receivers with 64 yards and Mhyson Williams added 42. Aikens also got to play one down as a quarterback, but not in the most traditional way, as he received a reverse handoff in the backfield and found an open Calderon for a 17-yard pass.
Del Valle was led by Grear, who had 176 yards on 13 carries.
San Marcos is now 5-1 on the season and 1-0 in district. Del Valle drops to 4-2 and 0-1 in district. The Rattlers travel to Austin to face off against Akins (1-4) at Burger Stadium next week. Del Valle will take on reigning district champion Bowie (4-1) at home.