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Mission Bay High junior Ethan Silber (7) stiff-arms a Calexico defender during the Buccaneers’ 41-7 victory over the Bulldogs in the CIF-San Diego Section Division V semifinal game on Friday, Nov. 19, in San Diego. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

FOOTBALL: Bulldogs’ Cinderella Season Ends

Late Turnovers Costly in Calexico’s 41-7 CIF Semifinal Loss to Mission Bay

SAN DIEGO — The dream season for the Calexico High School football team has ended.

The sixth-seeded Bulldogs, who reached the CIF-San Diego Division V semifinals on Friday, Nov. 19, for the first time in school history, came up short at No. 2-seeded Mission Bay, 41-7.

Bulldogs’ second-year head coach Fernando Solano said the team needed to follow the gameplan if it wanted to get to the championship game.

Calexico High School senior quarterback Abram Zazueta (22) gets across the goal line for the Bulldogs only touchdown against Mission Bay in the CIF-San Diego Section Division V semifinal game in San Diego on Friday, Nov. 19. Mission Bay defeated Calexico 41-7. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

“Obviously, we didn’t get the breaks that we wanted,” Solano said after the game. “We knew coming in we would have to play a near-perfect game. We didn’t make them punt the ball enough. We we’re trying to control the ball as much as we could to get the ball out of their hands. We did at times, but ultimately we came up short. Give credit to Mission Bay, they’re a good team.”

Entering the game, Solano told the players to enjoy the experience and embrace the opportunity to be four quarters away from a CIF championship game.

“If anything, there was no pressure on us,” Solano said. “All the pressure was on them. They’re the higher seed. They’re the ones that are supposed to win this game, so we went into the game with the mindset, ‘There’s nothing to lose and all to gain.’ So, with that mindset, we kept them free. We didn’t want them to think too much and enjoy the ride.”

Mission Bay took the opening kickoff and went on a four-minute drive, ending in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Buccaneers’ senior quarterback Clash Orsborn to senior wide receiver Keller Feltman to grab a quick 7-0 lead.

Calexico began its first drive at its own 14-yard line and proceeded to keep the ball until the 8:54 mark in the second quarter, in a drive that lasted 18 plays and took more than 11 minutes off the clock. The possession saw all 18 plays on the ground, and ended with a two-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Abram Zazueta.

During the drive, Calexico converted a fourth-and-1 at the Mission Bay 24-yard line with 11:02 remaining in the first half when Zazueta kept the ball for a three-yard gain. Senior Lorenzo Rodriguez booted the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.

Solano said the 18-play drive exemplified the team’s goals for the season, and the game.

Calexico High senior running back Ernie Sanchez reaches for more yardage against Mission Bay during the Bulldogs 41-7 loss to the Buccaneers in the CIF-San Diego Section Division V semifinal in San Diego on Friday, Nov. 19. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

“That’s like the mindset we had all year,” Solano said. “If we can control the clock by running the ball, we have a good chance.”

On Mission Bay’s next possession, Orsborn would put the Buccaneers up 13-7 on a six-yard touchdown run.

After both teams traded interceptions to close out the first half, Mission Bay went into intermission with a 13-7 lead, but the Bulldogs were getting the ball to start the second half.

“I told them exactly in the locker room that this is the position we want to be in,” Solano said. “We’re going to get the ball back and we’re going to score.”

However, the Bulldogs were unable to advance the ball for a first down on that opening possession, punting the ball to the Buccaneers after a three-and-out.

From there, Calexico had one final drive to get back in the game facing fourth down with five yards to go at the Buccaneers’ 24-yard line, trailing 20-7 in the third quarter.

After 13 straight run plays on the drive, Zazueta took the snap and ran right but failed to find an open receiver, en route to a turnover on downs, giving the ball back to the Buccaneers, who would score on three consecutive possessions to extend the lead to 41-7.

Two of those three touchdown drives came after Calexico turnovers. The first was an interception that later turned into a score followed by a fumble on a kickoff that would also turn into a score.

As the dream season comes to a close, Solano said the players deserve a lot of credit in a year that saw the program make its deepest playoff run in school history.

Calexico High senior quarterback Abram Zazueta carries the ball for the Bulldogs against Mission Bay during their CIF-San Diego Section Division V semifinal game in San Diego on Friday, Nov. 19. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

“It was a season of overcoming a lot of obstacles, a lot of life lessons learned, but most importantly, the lesson that we learned is hard work beats talent because we’re not the biggest, strongest, fastest team, but we just work hard and have a lot of dedication and obviously, that can take you a long way,” Solano said.

Despite the loss and the two-hour trip to San Diego, many members of the Calexico community made trek as Bulldog students, cheerleaders, parents and the band filled the visitor’s bleachers in support.

Solano said the fanbase has backed this team, dating back to the beginning of the season.

Calexico High School second-year head coach Fernando Solano talks to the Bulldogs after losing 41-7 to Mission Bay in the CIF-San Diego Section Division V semifinals in San Diego on Friday, Nov. 19. It is the first time in school history a Calexico High football team has reached the CIF-SDS semifinals. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

“I’m so grateful for having the strong support from the community,” Solano said. “They’ve been behind us since day one. They just come out and believe in the kids. Even though we came up short today, they were appreciative of the season, and they came out and said thank you to all the coaches and the players. So, I’m really grateful for the strong support from the community.”

Mission Bay now moves on to the CIF-San Diego Division V championship game and a meeting with top-seeded Palo Verde Valley High of Blythe set for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26 at Grossmont High School in El Cajon.

Desert League champion Palo Verde defeated Fallbrook High, 29-28, in the CIF-San Diego Section Division V football semifinal at Scott Stadium in Blythe on Nov. 19 to advance to the championship game.

The top-seeded Yellowjackets (10-2 overall), swept through the Desert League and have now won eight straight games heading into the Division V championship game.

Murray Anderson contributed to this report.

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