The Alvarez High football team completed its almost cosmic-like transformation Friday night.
In the period of just one year the Eagles went from a program once smothered in turmoil and trouble to one that pulled off perhaps the greatest single-season turnaround in Salinas prep history.
The Eagles, who went 0-10 last year and lost by an average of 34 points, soared to their first outright league title in the 18-year history of the program with a 38-7 home-field win over Watsonville.
Alvarez still has one more regular-season game to play — a non-league contest next Friday at home against powerful Monterey — but win or lose the Eagles are undisputed Monterey Bay League Pacific Division champions with a 6-0 record — their first title since their co-championship season of 2002.
They’re also still unbeaten overall at 9-0 (the victory number is a regular-season record), and with a win next week would become only the second high school team in Monterey County football history to go from winless one year to undefeated the next since North Monterey County did it in 1978-79.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock a chant of “9-0! 9-0! 9-0!” broke out in the Alvarez stands.
The Eagles looked like they’d be on their way to another blowout after scoring on their final two drives of the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead. Ahmed Ahmed, who started at quarterback in place of Edric Gamble, threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Ryan Hocog and Emilio Orejel followed with a one-yard touchdown run.
Gamble returned on the Eagles’ third possession of the first quarter and finished the game.
Alvarez was shutout in the second quarter while Watsonville rallied behind the rugged running of 6-0, 220-pound Alexis Munoz to cut the margin to 14-7 at halftime.
Munoz rushed for 131 yards in the first half, but an injury limited him to three carries and 29 yards in the second half.
Alvarez took charge in the second half and padded its lead to 30-7 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Jose Jimenez and 7-yard scoring run by Gamble.
Gamble rushed seven times for 65 yards to go over the 900-yard mark on the season. Ceasar Ramirez also topped 900 yards by going for 91 on nine carries.
Only twice in county history has a team had two running backs rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
But it’s been that kind of year for Alvarez. The results of its football program have been dramatic on several levels and its troubles go back several years.
Last season Alvarez scored a total of 98 points. The Eagles nearly topped that total after two games this year and came into Friday’s game averaging 40 points per outing, having never scored less than 26 points in any game.
This season may also go a long way in wiping out many of the football team’s past problems, which included a decision to fire, then recall, one of its most popular coaches in 2001, a mid-season coaching change in 2008 and the nightmare of 2011 when two adults were arrested and the Eagles two best players left the team after a highly-publicized post-game incident that also led to a coaching dismissal at the end of the season.
Alvarez has had seven head coaches since it opened in 1996 and only one — its first, Joe Mazzuca — has lasted more than three years. He resigned after the 1999 season.
No Alvarez coach has lasted more than three years since then for a team that went 2-37-1 overall from 2006 through 2010 and had not had a winning record since 2002.
There is no telling how long current Alvarez coach Dave Bottom will stick around, but his name will be etched in the school’s football lore forever. He was hired after school broke for summer recess in 2012, too late for any spring practice and barely enough time for an off-season conditioning program.
But after coping with a winless rookie season — his first as a head coach at any level — the turnout for Alvarez football this summer reached an all-time high with more than 150 showing up for the three teams.
It’s as if they knew something nobody else did.