Holtville High senior Donovan Johnston sprints for the end zone early in the second quarter of the Vikings’ 43-0 victory over Calipatria in a Desert League game at Veterans Field here on Thursday, Oct. 28. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
CALIPATRIA — The Holtville High School football team took a while to get going in its annual Axe Game rivalry against Calipatria, but once the Vikings found their form they didn’t look back, beating the Hornets, 43-0, in the Desert League finale for both teams at Veterans Stadium here.
After a scoreless first quarter, Holtville put 24 on the scoreboard in the second quarter for a 24-0 halftime lead.
“We came in knowing if we limited our mistakes and didn’t give them points it would be tough for them to beat us,” said Jason Turner, Holtville High’s fifth-year head coach. “In the first quarter we made mental and physical mistakes that hurt us, but we were able to get the running game going in the second quarter.”
The Vikings (3-1 in DL, 8-2 overall) finished second in league, behind Palo Verde Valley (4-0 in DL, 8-2 overall). Holtville received the No. 3-seed in the CIF-San Diego Section Division V playoffs and has a bye in the first round. The Vikings will host the winner between Calexico and Maranatha Christian High of San Diego at Birger Field at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12.
After the ugly first quarter, Holtville got its offense going early in the second when senior Donovan Johnston finished a six-play, 57-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 10:25 left in the half. He also ran in the two-point conversion to put the Vikings up 8-0.
After a three-and-out by the Hornets, Holtville took over at its own 49-yard-line and marched 51 yards in five plays with Johnston breaking loose for a 36-yard touchdown run. Senior Payton Iten ran in the two-point conversion and the Vikings led 16-0 with 6:26 left in the first half.
“It took a while for our line to find its footing but once they did they were opening up the holes and helping us get going,” said the 17-year-old Johnston, who finished with a game-high 86 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
Down 16-0, the Hornets (0-4 in DL, 2-8 overall) had their best drive of the game, getting to the Vikings’ 23-yard-line before a penalty pushed them back. That drive ended when senior quarterback Jacob Zendejas was intercepted by Iten, who returned it 72 yards for a touchdown.
After Johnston ran in the two-point conversion, Holtville had a 24-0 lead with 2:04 left in the half.
The second half would see the Vikings tack on three more touchdowns, including a three-yard run from sophomore Seth Iten, and two fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns from Payton Iten (80 yards on 13 carries), a 14-yarder and a 7-yarder.
Defensively, Holtville held the Hornets to 64 yards of total offense with Zendejas getting the bulk of those yards with 37 yards on 16 carries, plus going 4-for-13 passing for just 12 yards and an interception.
It is the second consecutive game the Vikings haven’t allowed a touchdown, after beating Mountain Empire, 7-3, a week ago in Holtville.
“I have so much confidence in our defense, we have a lot of guys who play both ways and our goal tonight was to definitely come in and get a shutout,” Johnston said.
This is the fourth straight Axe Game win for Holtville and second consecutive shutout, after winning 42-0 in 2019. There was no Axe Game in the COVID-shortened and delayed 2020 season as Calipatria chose not to field a football team.
Holtville leads the Axe Game rivalry, 10-2, dating back to 2009.
“A lot of us were pumped up for this game because most of us haven’t gotten to play in an Axe Game,” Johnston said. “Only Spencer (Hilfiker, senior quarterback) played in the game two years ago, so it was fun having something to play for.”
(This story was updated on Sunday, Oct. 31, with playoff seeding information released Saturday, Oct. 30.)