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Calexico High senior Abram Zazueta (22) scores on a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs beat Southwest, 25-15, in an Imperial Valley League game at Southwest High in El Centro on Friday, Oct. 8. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

FOOTBALL: Timely Plays Help Bulldogs Clip Eagles

Junior Andres Ramirez is Key to Calexico’s 25-15 IVL Win Against Southwest

EL CENTRO — Three big plays and an unintentional onside kick helped lead the Calexico High School football team to a 25-15 Imperial Valley league victory over Southwest High here on Friday, Oct. 8.

All three of the Bulldogs’ big plays involved junior Andres Ramirez who had three receptions for 67 yards and returned a fourth-quarter interception 37 yards for a touchdown.

On a night when Calexico (4-3 overall, 1-1 in IVL) didn’t get much production out of its ground game with only 89 yards on 26 carries, junior quarterback David Esquer went 4-for-4 on his pass attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown.

“Every week we say we have to get him (Ramirez) the ball more and we have implemented more plays for him,” said Fernando Solano, Calexico’s second-year head coach. “He’s such a good athlete and he knows how to go up and get the ball.”

After a quick three-and-out on their first possession, the Bulldogs couldn’t stop Southwest (2-5 overall, 0-2 in IVL) on the Eagles’ opening possession. Southwest drove 53 yards in 13 plays and finished with a seven-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Logan Jungers to senior receiver Nate Smith Jr. to put the Eagles ahead 7-0 with 3:52 left in the first quarter.

Calexico answered back midway through the second quarter when it went 80 yards in four plays, including a long 43-yard run from senior Abram Zazueta to take the Bulldogs into Eagles’ territory. Two plays Esquer lofted a pass to Ramirez, who outjumped the Southwest defender, for a 34-yard touchdown pass to tie the score 7-7 with 5:06 left in the first half.

Calexico High junior Andres Ramirez (3) goes high above the Southwest defender to catch the ball during the Bulldogs’ Imperial Valley League matchup with Southwest in El Centro on Friday, Oct. 8. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

“We work on that at practice where he will put it up there and I have to go get the jump ball,” said the 16-year-old Ramirez. “I know when I’m out there I’m on an island and I’m going to have to go up there and get it.”

The touchdown seemed to awaken the Calexico sideline and set up a strange unintentional onside kick on the ensuing kickoff.

Bulldogs’ senior kicker Lorenzo Rodriguez was supposed to pooch kick the ball but got under it too much and the ball had serious backspin. When it hit the ground it bounded backwards away from the Southwest players and allowed the Bulldogs’ Pedro Rioseco to recover it.

From there Calexico marched 40 yards in eight plays with Zazueta finishing the drive with a three-yard burst into the end zone to put the Bulldogs ahead 13-7 with 38 seconds left before halftime.

“With the wind blowing we knew we wouldn’t be able to kick it deep so we just wanted to put it in a spot, but he got under it and it only went about 15 yards,” Solano said about the unintentional onside kick. “Then it landed an spun back to our guys and we were able to recover it.”

Calexico High junior free safety Andres Ramirez (3) deflects a pass away from Southwest receiver Matai Cervantes during their Imperial Valley League game at Southwest High in El Centro on Friday, Oct. 8. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Early in the fourth quarter, Ramirez had another big play from his safety position on defense when he intercepted Jungers and retuned it 37 yards for a touchdown, putting Calexico ahead 19-7 with 10:56 left in the game.

“I was back there just trying to read the quarterback,” Ramirez said about the pick-six. “I figured he was going to the tight end and I was going to either hit him or intercept it. When I got it I made one cut to the left and was gone.”

Other than the opening drive and a late touchdown, the Bulldogs’ defense was able to constantly pressure Jungers and force him into uncomfortable situations.

“I was out there working my side of the defensive line and doing what I could to get to the quarterback,” said Diego Gurrola, a junior defensive end for Calexico who had a sack on a key third-and-10 play late in the third quarter. “We are getting better each game and I’m just trying to do my part and get the quarterback on the ground.”

Zazueta was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 49 yards and two touchdowns, including a late two-yard touchdown run after teammate Carlos Hernandez recovered a Southwest fumble at the Eagles’ 12-yard-line.

“We wanted to play fast and free tonight and I think we did that,” Solano said. “Defensively we wanted to focus on getting off the field after third down and getting the ball back to our offense.”

Jungers finished the game completing 14-of-24 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. His main target was senior tight end Derik Mankin who had eight catches for 114 yards.

Southwest will travel to Blythe for a nonleague matchup with Palo Verde Valley High at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 15.

Calexico will be on the road in Brawley for a 7 p.m. IVL matchup with the Wildcats at Warne Field on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Calexico High Senior Abram Zazueta lunges for the goal line during the second quarter of the Bulldogs’ 25-15 Imperial Valley League victory over Southwest in El Centro on Thursday, Oct. 8. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO