Salinas High football coach Steve Zenk may have offered what will be his shortest postgame talk of the season to his Cowboys on Friday night.
In the wake of their 21-14 season-opening road win over ranked Clayton Valley-Concord, Zenk sent his team off to celebrate after reminding them that “tomorrow, we get better.”
“We’re always trying to get better,” Zenk said in an interview a few moments later. “We take that approach in games, that this is an opportunity to get better. And the kids really did that tonight.
“I really enjoyed that. That was a big win.”
It was. Clayton Valley entered No. 3 in SBLive's North Coast Section Fab 15 preseason rankings. But Salinas was No. 7 in the Central Coast Section. So, this figured to be a competitive game.
The difference was Salinas quarterback Adam Shaffer.
His 5-yard touchdown run gave Salinas the 21-14 advantage with 27 seconds left in the third quarter. Then the Cowboys defense would squash a pair of Clayton Valley fourth-quarter drives that both reached the red zone.
The Ugly Eagles stalled out on the Salinas 5-yard line with 5:02 left in the game. Then one possession later, Josiah Garnica intercepted a ball inside the 5-yard line with 1.9 seconds left to seal the nonleague victory.
“We’d never played them,” Flynn said of Clayton Valley. “We saw limited film on what they had. But basically we just went into it trusting Coach Zenk. He said he’d never put us up against a team that he didn’t think we could win against. So we just trusted Zenk and played.”
Clayton Valley (0-1) owned all the momentum after the first two series of the game. Salinas turned the ball over on the game’s opening possession as Shaffer was intercepted by Josh Rodriguez. The Ugly Eagles then capitalized quickly with a nine-play drive capped by a 7-yard scoring pass from Christian Aguilar to Hayezon Jackson.
Salinas (1-0) would answer with the next two touchdowns, both Shaffer touchdown passes. The first went for 14 yards to Zach Ball, and the second belonged to receiver Nyziah Hunter. The Cal-bound recruit was able to outleap a pair of defenders and then sprint the remaining 35 yards untouched for a 65-yard score.
“Taking an interception for the other team and making it a TD for us is the kind of stuff he does,” Zenk said. That’s why he’s Cal’s No. 1 guy. He’s great. And he’s so humble.”
Hunter finished with two catches for 67 yards, but also had a 44-yard kick return that set up the team’s first scoring drive.
Clayton Valley tied the game late in the first half when Nicholas Khashabi scored on a 1-yard run. Khashabi rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries, but the Ugly Eagles’ put the ball in the air much more than in recent years. Senior quarterback Christian Aguilar, a transfer from Pittsburg High, and junior Mason Lovett each saw time behind center. They combined for 45 pass attempts and a little more than 225 yards.
Both defenses came out of the intermission dialed in. Each team struggled in its first three possessions of the third quarter. On its fourth possession, Clayton Valley chose to go for it on 4th-and-8 from its own 29-yard line. Aguilar’s pass fell incomplete, and that was the spark the Salinas offense needed.
“I saw something that I thought was going to be wide open, and it wasn't,” Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy said. “I’m always sort of a fourth down guy, but after three punts in a row, I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
The Cowboys scored in three plays. Shaffer completed a 9-yard pass to Julian Arreola, then made up the last 20 yards with a 15-yard scamper and a 5-yard score. The senior finished the night with 18 carries for 85 yards, and also threw for 142 yards and two scores.
“It was a good battle. We had our opportunities,” Murphy said. “They obviously played well. You can’t make those mistakes against guys like that.”
Despite Khashabi’s strong night, he was sidelined with cramps for the team’s final drive. The team also lost all-league outside linebacker Angel Gonzalez to an apparent ankle injury late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Will Stallings Jr., a three-star running back and Tennessee commit was dressed on Friday but was still waiting to be declared eligible. Stallings, who began his prep career at Pittsburg, returned to the Bay Area after spending his junior year at Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas. He had a little more than 700 rushing yards and eight touchdowns for the Nevada Class 5A state champion.
Clayton Valley plays at home again next Friday when it hosts Del Oro-Loomis. The Golden Eagles improved to 2-0 on Thursday night with a 34-27 win over Del Campo-Fair Oaks. Salinas will be on the road once again taking on Valley Christian-San Jose. The Warriors lost their opener to Wilcox-Santa Clara on Friday.
Chace Bryson is the managing editor for SportStars Magazine. View more of his features at SportStarsMag.com