BRAWLEY – Despite trailing the visiting Kearny High Komets 28-7 with less than two minutes to go in the first half, the Brawley Union Wildcat football team was able to rally and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, scoring 37 unanswered points to win 44-28 in a CIF-San Diego Division III first-round playoff game at Warne Field Friday night.
“I’m extremely proud of the kids. … It was just mistakes we were making that got us down early, and we told them to just settle down,” said Brawley coach Jon Self. “That was our big halftime adjustment … just settle down."
Down by 21 points after surrendering four consecutive touchdowns to the 10th-seeded Komets and with elimination breathing down their necks, the Wildcats, who had scored first on a 3-yard touchdown run after recovering a Komet fumble, refused to quit.
Kicking off the Wildcat rally were passes of 32 and 29 yards from freshman quarterback Ethan Gutierrez to defensive standout but seldom-used wide receiver Jesse Gutierrez to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Blake Krigbaum with seconds remaining in the half.
“I’ve been backing up people all season, and I’ve been ready to help,” said Jesse Gutierrez, who caught both balls between defenders. “I knew I was the target, and I really wanted to catch them to help out the team.”
Ethan Gutierrez, who had been mostly watching Kearny dominate the second quarter, had confidence in his tallest receiver.
“I have confidence in Jesse. He’s big, and he can jump, and we had only been on offense for two minutes in the second quarter, and we needed to score to get back into the game.
The touchdown changed the complexion of the game, making the score 28-13. It give Brawley, which would receive the second half kickoff, momentum going at the break.
Self was confident the Wildcats could come back.
“We saw some holes in what they were doing, and our kids were able to take those away and have them do what we wanted,” Self said.
“I was nervous. … We were down at halftime, but the coaches showed us our mistakes and how to fix them,” said Krigbaum, who would dominate the second half behind a resurgent Brawley offensive line. “The line proved their worth. … They are the best line a runner could have.”
The Wildcats closed the gap on the first play of the second half, when Ethan Gutierrez raced 80 yards for a touchdown, making it a 28-20 game.
“They stacked the box with defenders, and I got good blocks on the outside from Adrian (Chavez) and Julian (Camargo) and I just busted it,” Gutierrez said. “Watching the film I knew Kearny was fast, so I tried to run with longer strides.”
Brawley inched closer to regaining the lead after a muffed Kearny punt put Brawley on the Komet 19-yard line, setting up a 24-yard field goal from Xavier Pereyda, no small feat for a left-footer kicking from the left-hash mark into the wind.
Brawley then ran Krigbaum on three straight plays setting up fake to the fullback and a 15-yard run by Gutierrez to put the Wildcats back into the lead 30-28.
Kearny then attempted a field goal but it sailed wide left, and on the ensuing play, Krigbaum raced 80 yards, stunning the now-reeling Komets and giving Brawley a 37-28 lead.
Brawley’s defense then continued it second-half shutdown of the Komet offense, forcing Kearny to turn the ball over on downs, and Krigbaum put the final nail in the visitors’ coffin with an 8-yard touchdown run.
With the victory, Brawley (8-3) advances to meet second-seeded Hilltop High (9-1), who had first-round bye, in Chula Vista Friday night at 7 p.m.