EL CENTRO — Whether or not the Central Union High football team was expecting a bye to open this year’s post season, the squad did not lay off the gas pedal when hosting Mt. Carmel in a CIF-San Diego Section Div. III slugfest that favored the No. 5 Spartans 46-38 here on Friday night.
After Mt. Carmel worked to get back into the game late in the fourth quarter, the normally stingy Central defense found itself holding the Spartans’ playoffs hopes in its hands after the No. 12 Sun Devils recovered an onside kick with 1:06 left in the game and the scoreboard showing 46-38 in favor of the Spartans.
It was unfamiliar territory for the Central defense that incidentally allowed only a combined 34 points in the team’s perfect Imperial Valley League season.
Despite the flip, the Spartan defense rose to the occasion putting a stop the Sun Devils’ late surge and preserving Central’s season for another week.
Spartan Head Coach David Peña said he was proud of the way is team dealt with the late-game shift, noting the players had learned from prior mistakes.
“I liked the way they came out and faced that adversity head-on,” he said. “Earlier in the season, we had those losses of just a few points and they definitely remember that and learned from it.”
Central indeed faced each Mt. Carmel score with a tally of its own, never letting the pendulum swing so far away that the team would be unable to get back in the game.
One early hiccup of the game came toward the end of the first half when a receiver bobbled a Spartan quarterback Deniro Osuna pass that was recovered and returned by a Sun Devil to make it 28-14.
True to their senior-heavy roster, the Spartans were unfazed by the return and quickly regained control of the game with an excellent punt return from Fernando Morales.
The play eventually allowed the Spartans’ Jose Torres to place a 30-yard kick through the uprights, giving Central a 31-14 advantage with just over two minutes to play in the first half.
Torres put in work for the Spartans all game as the punter, while kicker Sebastian Coronel was a perfect 5-5 on PATs.
It made for a solid performance and team effort on all sides of the ball, with the offense putting up 31 points, the defense allowing only 7 and the special teams contributing 7 points — all in the first half of the game.
“Yes, overall, the team did great,” Peña observed, before adding there was always room for growth and improvement.
Grinding for the Spartans in the first quarter — and the entire game — was Angel Nava-Esparza, who rushed for two scores in that period alone, tacked on a third in the second period and ended up scoring a total of five in the game to go with one two-point conversion score.
Also helping Central to the monster performance was Osuna, who connected with Michael Sullivan on a 67-yard feed for one passing touchdown on the night.
With the win, the Spartans move to 9-2 on the season and advance to the CIF-SDS Div. III quarterfinals on Friday, when they will travel to face No. 4 San Diego.