Holtville High School junior running back Payton Iten sprints toward the end zone during the Vikings’ matchup against Vincent Memorial on Thursday, April 1, at Cal Jones Field in El Centro. | CATHI PHILLIPS LARIOS PHOTO
EL CENTRO — The Holtville High School football team used a stout rushing attack to control the ball and the clock to defeat Vincent Memorial Catholic High of Calexico, 45-14, in a Desert League matchup at Cal Jones Field on the Central Union High campus on Thursday, April 1.
The Vikings (2-0 in DL action, 2-2 overall) got a breakout game from junior running back Payton Iten, who rushed for 185 yards on 22 carries and scored three touchdowns. Senior Abraham Ramos had seven carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter, and senior C.J. Nuñez finished with 79 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.
As a team, Holtville rushed for 397 yards and scored all six touchdowns on the ground.
“You never want to see someone get hurt, but it was almost a blessing in disguise when (star senior running back) Jose (Devoux) went down the opening week,” said Jason Turner, Holtville’s fourth-year head coach. “It gave these other guys a chance to step up and show us what they can do.”
Devoux, the Vikings’ leading rusher the last two seasons, was injured in the season-opening game against Brawley and has played sparingly since the injury. On Thursday, against Vincent, he was used primarily on special teams.
The win gives Holtville a one-game lead in the DL standings with one league game remaining at Mountain Empire of Pine Valley at 7 p.m. April 9.
On Thursday, neither team was able to do anything on its opening possession, but Holtville got the ground game going on its second when the Vikings marched 50 yards in seven plays, with Iten finishing the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Quarterback Damian Rodriguez hit Jonathan Heraz for the two-point conversion and Holtville had an 8-0 lead with 8:02 left in the opening quarter.
“The line was doing a really good job tonight of opening up the holes,” said the 16-year-old Iten. “Once we get through the line, we are able to read how the defense reacts and either bounce it outside or take it up the middle.”
Midway through the second quarter a muffed punt gave Holtville great field position at the Scots’ 21-yard line. Six plays later Nuñez was bulling his way in from the 4-yard-line for a touchdown. Rodriguez again hit Heraz for another two-point conversion and the Vikings would take that 16-0 into halftime.
Vincent Memorial’s offense was nonexistent in the first half, being thrown back for negative-17 yards rushing, and netting only 51 yards through the air from junior quarterback Diego Elorduy.
“We just didn’t come out as ready to play as we should have,” said David Wong, Vincent Memorial head coach. “To lose like we did last week (34-0 against Central Union), I think some of that carried over into this week.”
Holtville’s first possession of the second half was a seven-play, 63-yard drive that was basically all Iten. He rushed for 54 yards on the drive, including the final 1-yard plunge into the end zone to put the Vikings up 22-0 with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
Iten got his third touchdown of the game on Holtville’s next possession finishing an eight-play, 70-yard drive with a 14-yard sprint to pay dirt with 10 seconds left in the third quarter. Nunez tossed to Rodriguez for the two-point conversion to put the Vikings on top, 30-0, heading to the final period.
“We put it on our offensive line this week. We told them if they did their job and did it well, we were going to be successful,” Turner said. “Credit to those guys for stepping up and playing well tonight against a very tough defensive line from Vincent Memorial.”
The Scots’ two scores came in the final period as senior Max Diaz scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and Elorduy hit senior tight end Alejandro Cervantes for a 26-yard touchdown strike late in the game.
Elorduy finished the game completing 16-of-32 passes for 151 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The fourth quarter also saw the return of Ramos to the Holtville backfield after the senior running back was also injured in the season-opener against Brawley. Ramos looked healthy on Thursday, scoring twice in the fourth quarter on runs of 1 yard and 39 yards.
The Scots will next face Palo Verde of Blythe in a DL matchup set for 7 p.m. April 9 at Southwest High School in El Centro.