This time of the year must seem like Groundhog Day to the Salinas High School football team.
The Cowboys reached a Central Coast Section semifinal game for the fifth straight year, and for the fifth straight time they saw their season come to an end.
Hollister, which beat Salinas in the CCS D-II semifinals in 2009, did it again Friday night by knocking off the Cowboys 30-13 in a D-I semifinal at Salinas High Stadium.
“We lost the turnover battle,” Salinas coach Steve Goodbody said. “One stopped a drive and the other led to a touchdown.”
Still, it looked like it was going to be the Cowboys’ turn to finally break though when they went 56 yards on just three plays on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead. Jon Santos race 38 yards on the second play, and from there Eric Ball carried in from 18 yards out and just like that the Cowboys were rolling.
But Hollister was about to rock and roll.
The Balers grabbed the lead for good when they took the ensuing kickoff for an eight-play 71-yard scoring drive, then used a two-point conversion pass to take an 8-7 advantage.
Late in the first quarter Salinas fumbled and Hollister recovered at the Cowboy 16-yard-line. Paris Edwards and quarterback David Stanton combined for the next six carries, with Stanton scoring the second of this three touchdown to boost the lead to 14-7.
The half ended with Hollister still holding a 14-7 lead after missing a 31-yard field goal.
Salinas put itself in another hole as soon as the second half began when it lost a fumble on its first play of the third quarter.
Hollister took over on the Cowboy 26, and five plays later scored again on a 6-yard run by Stanton for a 20-7 lead with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
Stanton, who at one time was the Balers’ third-string quarterback, finished with 105 yards rushing on 18 carries. Paris added 70 yards on 22 carries as the ball-control Balers rushed 53 times for 254 yards.
Salinas, also a team that depends on its running game, was never able to get its ground attack going after its initial blast in the first quarter. The Cowboys carried 24 times for 122 yards. Everett Ball, who rushed for a Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division best 1,217 yards during the regular season and topped the 200-yard mark in the Cowboys’ playoff opener, was held to 48 yards on 11 carries. He rushed only three times in the second half.
Through it all Salinas scrambled back into the game when it recovered a fumble at the Hollister 30 with 1:35 to go in the third quarter and still trailing 20-7.
On second-and-goal from the 14, Jackson Duda zig-zagged his way through the middle of the Baler defense for the touchdown that pulled Salinas within 20-13.
But Hollister quickly regained control. It settled for a 24-yard field goal by John Canes with 6:28 to play in the game. And after forcing the Cowboys to punt from inside their 10-yard line, Stanton tossed a back-breaking 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-eight to Cody Freitas that gave the Balers a 30-13 lead with four minutes to play.
But if there was any frustration among the Cowboys players and coaches after the game they kept it hidden, perhaps realizing there’s something to be said for reaching the semifinals five years in a row.
“If people realized how hard it is to get to this point they’d probably have more appreciation for the coaching staff and the players,” Goodbody said.
Salinas finished the year 7-5 overall. Hollister, the No. 6 seed in the eight-team field, will take its 7-5 record into next Saturday’s championship game.