GONZALES — Senior night was a special one for the Gonzales Apaches (6-2, 2-1) who dominated on all sides of the field in their 17-6 victory over La Vernia (4-4, 0-2).
“In 24 years, without question, that is the best executed game plan offensively, defensively, special teams, coaching staff, backup players, rotators,” Gonzales head coach Mike Waldie said, “[we’re] one screen play early [away from] literally perfection of how we wanted to run the clock, the version of the offense we put in this week, the new version of the defense we put in this week. Every aspect of it. Making the field goal. That was what you call a total team and staff win by executing, it was awesome.”
The Apaches showed a new look on offense, coming out of a wishbone, meaning three running backs lined up behind the quarterback and tight ends lined up close to offensive linemen. The rushing attack allowed the Apaches to win the time of possession battle.
Waldie and his offense caught La Vernia off guard immediately with a 58-yard touchdown run by Arbreyon Dora on the first offensive play of the game. Dora was just one of five ball carriers the Apaches utilized. Banged-up starting running back Dillen Ramos had some carries, alongside Cesar Matamoros, quarterback Heath Henke and, surprisingly, starting defensive end Diego Diaz de Leon.
“I tried not to give the secret away too much when we talked earlier in the week, but I meant it, we were going to play our best 11 and we did that tonight,” Waldie explained. “Guys stepped up. We’re in Week 9, you got to be in the best shape of your life and you got to give the ball to your best players or use them in every way possible.”
Ramos’ injury was also a factor in the game plan, as the coaching staff wanted to find ways to get their best athletes the ball and limit Ramos’ carries.
“Not to lie to you, we kind of regret it the week before not getting [Dora] a few more touches,” Waldie noted.
“We wasn’t sure if [Ramos] was going to be healthy,” he added, “so going into Monday, we had to design things that got as many people touches that were starting on D. And that’s the deal, you look out there and your starting ‘Mike’ linebacker, your starting d-end, your starting safety is in your wishbone. We knew that we needed depth and those guys stepped up huge.”
Defensively, the Apaches were near-perfect, minus a 76-yard screen pass early in the first quarter. The defense came away with five total sacks from Henke, Diaz de Leon, Lion Williamson and Ivan Reyna. The team also recovered a fumble deep in their own territory
“[La Vernia quarterback Gage Lowry] had all day to throw in the videos we’ve been watching and he’s so good that we honestly rolled the dice a little bit,” Waldie said, “but once we got to him early I think we gained confidence and they lost a little. I don’t think we intended necessarily to pressure him as much as we ended up doing but it was working and they did a couple of really good things in the middle that made us kind of have to sit back on our hands and we figured that out at halftime. Once we had it fixed at halftime I had a lot of confidence.”
The Apaches had plenty of confidence, including midway through the second quarter up 8-6 over La Vernia. Faced with a 4th-and-1 from their 20-yard line, Waldie opted to go for it instead of punting. The offense converted that fourth down and converted another one later in the same drive from the goal line with a Henke quarterback sneak, to go up 14-6.
“I felt like all week that at least in the first half we were going to catch them off guard with the ‘junior high sneak play,’ let’s call it what it is,” Waldie explained. “I knew we had the size, I knew we were bigger than they were. Heath is just a special player. Then when you get those three guys behind him, pushing him, they changed the whole Reggie Bush rule, then I think sneaks are underutilized and we took advantage of it.
“That was a momentum changer. It changed the whole football game. I knew that was going to happen. We talked about it all week. I knew we were going to do it three [yards] or less and we did it and they executed it.”
The play that iced the game was a 44-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Daniel Cruz who earlier didn’t attempt an extra-point kick due to a bad snap. Waldie believed Cruz could kick it from 50-yards out with the wind behind his back and when faced with a 4th-and-11 play, he sent his kicker out for the long attempt.
Admittedly, Waldie paused with the wind dying down and 2:15 left in the fourth quarter, but later called the play a “no brainer and a great kick.”
“[I’m] so proud of him,” Waldie said of Cruz.
Meanwhile, the Apaches did lose a key athlete due to injury, sophomore Jeremiah Hastings.
“The only disappointing thing was Jeremiah Hastings getting nicked,” Waldie said. “I don’t have a status on that, but he is such a great kid, having such a phenomenal sophomore year. God bless him and I hope the Lord heals him quickly.”
The win means the Gonzales Apaches are in the playoffs, now fighting for seeding. The team is on a bye next week. The Apaches travel to Boerne on Thursday, Nov. 7 to take on the Greyhounds. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.