October 22, 2020

By Greg Selber

MISSION – It was vintage Vela Thursday night as the SaberCats were prolific on offense, opportunistic on D, and tossed in a few game-changing special teams plays to rampage to a 49-13 victory over Mission Vets in the season opener for both schools.

Senior A.J. Sotelo hurled for more than 200 yards in the first half, little slot Austin Carrillo had a fabulous night, and RB P.J. Rivera ran for a couple of scores as the Sabes amassed a 32-13 lead at the half in a battle of perennial powers. They coasted home after that for a 1-0 start.

At the outset, Vets cruised down inside the Vela 10 behind standout receiver A.J. Gonzaque, but Vela held thanks to some hard hits and a pass breakup on fourth down from Justin Navarro.

The Pats let the visitor out of the hole with an ill-timed penalty and soon enough it was 7-0, Vela as Carrillo turned in some big catches and Rivera punched it in from the 3 at 2:49 of the first. Coach John Campbell’s side had a TD ball from Sotelo to junior Justin Vega called back because of a flag and underwent a series of penalties on the long opening drive before scoring.

Senior Ivan Mendoza, long the bulwark of the defense, then came up with a tip-drill interception to set the team up and soon Rivera was in again, this time at 0:40 after grabs from Carrillo and H-back Jaden Tovar got the wheels greased.

The Pats rallied with a bomb to the strapping Gonzaque but Vela went to work again, Sotelo hitting Carrillo for 26 yards and Tovar for 12. Next it was a 52-yard bomb to a wide-open Vega for a 21-7 lead at 7:43 of the second.

Coach David Gilpin’s crew was resilient Thursday, however, and drove down to cut the lead to eight at 21-13. But then Mendoza again; breaking in as he has done so many times in the past, the gutty leader blocked the PAT, whereupon Nicholas Vega pounced on the pig and headed off in the other direction. It seemed like the longest 15 seconds of his life, but he made it, deftly notching two points for the Blue and Black. And when Josh Garcia scooted 56 yards with the ensuing kickoff, initiating a subsequent 10-yard bullet on the slant from Sotelo to Carrillo, the die was cast.

Teams around the Valley know but can do nothing about the fact that once you give Vela an inch, it will probably end up with something close to a mile in return. Campbell’s charged added a field goal late in the period for an insurmountable lead, Mendoza making a terrific pass defense play and the three-man defensive front getting more pressure on the passer as the half had worn on. Garcia ran a pick back for a TD in the second half, by the way.

The gang is back in action Thursday against a North group that scored a tremendous plus in its season opener at home Friday against P-SJ-A, winning 29-22 thanks to a late goal-line stand. Jean Carlos Reyes slammed for a pair of touchdowns and Michael Rodriguez raced 66 yards to the house to pace the victory for North, which led by 9 at the half. The Coogs were up 15 in the fourth when the Bears rallied, closing to within a score, but their last-ditch effort fell short. The key to the game was probably turnovers, as North forced the visitor into six miscues.

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