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Calexico High School quarterback David Esquer gets sacked by a host of Central Union High defenders during an Imperial Valley League matchup at Cal Jones Field in El Centro on Friday, March 19. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

FOOTBALL: Inexperience Shows as Spartans Blank Bulldogs

EL CENTRO — With only five seniors on the roster, the inexperience of the Calexico High School football team shined brightly as the Bulldogs were blanked by a senior-laden Central Union squad, 45-0, at Cal Jones Field in El Centro on Friday, March 19.

With the COVID-delayed season not allowing practice until late February, the lack of senior leadership has hurt the Bulldogs in preparation for the season. Opening its schedule against three-time defending Imperial Valley League champion Central was never going to be an easy task.

Calexico High School’s Andres Castro carries the ball for the Bulldogs during their Imperial Valley League matchup with Central Union at Cal Jones Field in El Centro on Friday, March 19. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

“Our main focus is trying to build a foundation and what a great opportunity we had tonight to learn how to build that by playing a great team like Central,” said Fernando Solano, Calexico’s first-year head coach. “We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores out there trying to make plays and we can build on that.”

On the Bulldogs’ opening possession, sophomore quarterback David Esquer threw an interception on his first attempt, getting picked off by the Spartans’ Daymien Nelson at Calexico’s 46-yard-line.

It didn’t take the Spartans long to cash in on the turnover, marching 46 yards in five plays with freshman Zarien Robinson getting his first high school touchdown on a 9-yard bolt into the end zone. Mylas Rodriguez booted the extra point and Central was up 7-0 with 8:41 left in the opening quarter.

Robinson, who finished the game with 14 carries for 65 yards and two touchdowns, is the son of former Central football legend Gerald Robinson, who played for coach Cal Jones in the mid-1980s and went on to play college football at Fresno State and Northern Arizona University.

After Calexico went three-and-out on its second possession, the Spartans wasted no time again finding the end zone, going 45 yards in three plays culminating with a Jordan Reed-to-Gavin Marini 5-yard touchdown pass. The point-after attempt missed, leaving Central up 13-0 midway through the opening quarter.

“All of us are just happy to have the opportunity to be out here playing football,” said David “Rookie” Peña, Central’s fourth-year head coach. “It was good to get out here, hit somebody different and see where we need to improve.”

With 20 seniors on his roster, Peña knows he’s got senior leadership on both sides of the ball, including senior linebacker Brian Martin, who spoke during a January “Let Them Play” rally about wanting another chance get on the field.

“I definitely woke up excited today. It felt so good to have another game day,” said the 17-year-old Martin, who carried the American flag out onto the field as a Central captain. “It was very emotional to get to run out in front of our parents one more time.”

Senior wing back Fernando Morales had a big game for the Spartans with three touchdowns, including a 62-yard catch-and-run, a 14-yard reception and a 67-yard sprint. He finished the game with six catches for 150 yards and 67 yards rushing.

Jordan Reed, Central’s senior play caller, completed 13-of-16 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns.

“Now we’ve got some film to look at and we know we need to clean up some of our technique,” Peña said. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’ll get there.”

Calexico’s offense struggled with the speed of the Central defense, but coach Solano said the opportunity to play again was a huge step for his players.

“It’s an opportunity to play again on a Friday night when we weren’t sure we were going to get that chance,” Solano said. “At the end of the day, it is all about having that drive and fire to compete and we can work with that.”

The Bulldogs next chance to compete comes on Friday, March 26, when they will host Southwest of El Centro at 7 p.m. at Ward Field. Central is scheduled to host Vincent Memorial Catholic of Calexico at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, at Cal Jones Field.

Calexico High School’s Gabriel Verdugo tackles a Central Union running back during an Imperial Valley League matchup at Cal Jones Field in El Centro on Friday, March 19. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
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