The great John Wooden once said “Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”
The Gonzales Apaches definitely became acquainted with themselves several times against the Marion Bulldogs during their Homecoming game Friday, Sept. 9.
Instead of folding like a napkin, however, they folded like forged steel, coming back stronger and harder to slice their way to a signature 27-13 win.
The biggest test for the Apaches may have been at the start of the second half. Down 7-6, Gonzales was looking forward to receiving the third quarter kickoff, but Marion recovered a successful squib kick at the Apache 18 and scored one play later on an Aidan Baty touchdown run that gave the visiting Bulldogs a 13-6 lead with less than a minute gone off the clock.
Gonzales responded by stuffing a two-point conversion attempt and then scoring on three of their next four possessions while keeping Marion out of the end zone for the rest of the contest.
“I've never doubted this team's effort.,” said Gonzales head coach and AD Joey Rivera. “They played for four quarters straight tonight and I thought the biggest turning point of the game was when we got hit in the gut right there after halftime when they recovered the onside kick and went down and scored.
“We recovered and we came back from it where, last week (at La Vernia) we got hit in the stomach to start the second half and we never really recovered off of it, so it's great to see that happen.”
The Apaches (2-1) got another big game on the ground from senior running back Derrick Garza, who ran 27 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns. While Garza was strong in the first half, with 12 carries for 75 yards, he was even better in the second, toting the ball 15 times for 119 yards.
Quarterback Jarren Johnson also turned things around in the second half for the Apaches. After starting the first half 4-of-9 for 43 yards and an interception in the first half, Johnson lit it up in the second half, going 8-of-11 for 137 yards and TD strikes of 31 yards to his favorite target, Davante Smith, and five yards to Garza. Smith caught six passes overall for 129 yards and a TD to lead the team in that category, while Garza caught three passes for 30 yards.
“We knew going in that they were going to have trouble covering those skill guys on the outside,” Rivera said. “Like I've always said, if they're going to try to take away the run, we're gonna go ahead and throw it. Jarren does a great job throwing the ball and we’ve got some skill guys out there who can catch it and go; we’ve just got to get it out to them.”
Marion started the game and drove the ball on the ground to the Gonzales 29. Facing and fourth and 7, the Bulldogs took advantage of an Apache letup as quarterback Bo Stahl hit Dominic Castellanos for a 29-yard TD. The kick was good, making it 7-0 with 8:16 to play in the first.
The Apaches moved the ball from their own 33 to the Marion 19 on their first possession, but a second down pass by Johnson was intercepted by Baty at the 17 to kill the drive.
The Bulldogs were able to advance to the Gonzales 47, aided by a fake punt in their own territory that gained a first down, but eventually had to punt the ball. The Apaches moved the ball from their nine to their 33, but a punt on fourth down was blocked and recovered by Marion there. Gonzales bent but did not break on defense, forcing an errant throw on fourth and 13 at the 23 for a turnover on downs.
The Apaches responded by driving the ball 77 yards on 10 plays as they blended the run and pass to perfection. Garza took it in from six yards out with 3:39 to play it the first half. A bad snap on the PAT attempt forced a two-point attempt and the pass was no good, making the score 7-6.
Marion took the ball down the field, picking up big chunks of yardage from their own 35 to the Gonzales 8, but Carlos Verastegui intercepted Stahl’s fourth down pass to end the half, although the Apaches would be hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that would come into play to start the second half as it aided Marion’s decision to go for the squib kick.
When Gonzales did get the ball for the first time in the second half, down 13-7, they responded big time. On second and seven at the 41, Garza ripped off a 28-yard run to the Bulldog 31. Then, Johnson put a perfect touch on a pass to Smith into the end zone for a 31-yard TD. The two-point run was no good, making it 13-12 with 10:39 left in the third quarter.
Gonzales forced a punt by Marion on the ensuing possession and then got to work with an 80-yard drive, aided by a pair of Johnson-to-Smith connections for 53 yards. Garza finished off the drive with a four-yard TD run that gave the Apaches their first lead. Johnson then hit Weston Ruddock for the two-point conversion to make it 20-13 with 2:58 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gonzales took over the ball at their own 30 and drove 70 yards in 10 plays, including a nifty 25-yard hook and ladder from Johnson to Mason Navejar to Garza and an 18-yard pass from Johnson to Navejar. The finishing blow was a six-yard TD pass from Johnson to Garza with 5:15 left in the game. The kick was good, making it 27-13.
Marion tried to mount one last comeback, but Navejar picked off Stahl on fourth down to essentially end the Bulldogs’ night.
Next up for the Apaches will be another 2021 playoff team — Pleasanton, a perennial foe of the Apaches. The Eagles lost their first two games to Antonian Prep and Boerne, but clawed out a 23-23 tie with Jourdanton on Friday.
“It should be very similar with Coach (Stephen) Liska over at Pleasanton,” Rivera said. “It reminds me a lot of the coaching staff (at Marion). I played Coach Liska (and Pleasanton) when I was in Pearsall and they were always well coached and have been there for a long time. Great culture, great pride and great tradition, so it'll be, I'd imagine, another one just like this.”
Rivera said the team and community have bought into his “Winners Act Right” philosophy.
“I've told the kids since day one the three things we're focusing on are, number one, coming to school every day; number two is acting right and number three is passing our classes,” Rivera said. “We've got a three-week report coming out, so with number three, it will be big to see if they're all bought in on that because if not, then they'll be having some lunch tutorials coming up here in the next three weeks.
“I told them we're small group. There's 38 to 39 of us and we we don't magically just grow them from somewhere else. You're what we got — every single guy is important to our team, from the freshman to the JV.
“I tell our JV guys all the time but how important they are and how much better they're getting in practice. They make us a ton better and that's really where this week I think came from was our JV stepped up a lot as scout players this week and they did a great job.,” Rivera added.
Game time for next week’s home game against Pleasanton is 7 p.m.