TRACY — Two of the Valley Oak League’s top young quarterbacks were supposed to square off at Don Nicholson Stadium Friday in a battle of two 1-6 squads.
Neither played for different reasons, but it was a battle nonetheless.
Kimball honored its first senior class in school history and warded off a late charge from visiting East Union to prevail, 38-35.
A 62-yard punt return from Mark Aguilar, who shined in an all-purpose role, set up Jack Zellar’s 1-yard quarterback keeper, and Alex Diaz’s ensuing PAT drew East Union (1-4, 1-7 overall) to within striking distance 47 seconds remaining.
Kimball (1-4, 2-7) secured the victory when Dario Valadez recovered the onside kick.
For the Lancers to put themselves in position to at least tie it late in the game is a credit to their resiliency. They never led and four of their own turnovers were turned into 24 points.
East Union tightened up defensively in the second half, outgaining the Jaguars 115-68 in offensive yardage while holding them to just three first downs. By game’s end, the Lancers had a 279-233 advantage in total yards.
“That first quarter did us in a little bit but we didn’t quit — I’m very proud of the guys for that,” said East Union coach Willie Herrera. “We’re still not happy with a loss, we want to win. There are no moral victories.”
He was ecstatic over the play of Zellar, filling in for normal starter Joe Menzel. Menzel, a promising sophomore, missed practice on Monday because of an illness, prompting Herrera to bench him at the start of Friday’s game.
Zellar overcame a rough start in which he threw an interception to Kimball’s Ismael Gutierrez on East Union’s first drive. East Union went three-and-out on its next series before Zellar and the rest of the offense found their groove.
Kimball standout junior Zack Johnson missed the game because of a sprained ankle sustained in last week’s 27-22 loss at Sierra.
“When Jack filled in on Monday he had a great practice, and he continued it for the rest of the week and had himself a very good game,” Herrera said. “He made a couple of mistakes and put the ball on the ground, but this is his first start as a varsity player.”
Zellar completed 11 of 21 for 160 yards and two touchdowns and scored two more on the ground. T.J. Williams (6 receptions, 84 yards) and Kevin Bolding (two receptions, 11 yards) were on the receiving end of 13- and 7-yard TD strikes, respectively.
Zellar’s big night was spoiled by turnovers, as he also lost three fumbles.
Zellar’s last fumble was costly, though that it was questionable. Down 31-28 early in the fourth, Zellar jaunted 13 yards on a first-down play starting at EU’s own 1 and appeared to be down when the ball came loose. Kimball’s Salvador Chavez recovered it on the Lancer 14.
“I’m pretty sure I was down,” Zellar said. “I still had it when I was on the ground.”
Four plays later, the Jaguars scored on an 8-yard pass from Logan Finley to Chandler Alves to increase their lead to 10 with 6:49 remaining.
“There were some bad calls, but we made mistakes, too,” Zellar said. “I thought we played good, the mistakes just really hurt us.”
Later in the contest, Aguilar sparked the Lancers on a screen play that spanned 51 yards and set the offense up on Kimball’s 14. But on fourth-and-7, Kimball linebacker Beau Lawrence sacked Zellar with about 2 minutes left.
East Union converted on its next drive thanks to Aguilar’s big runback on a punt. He ended up with 234 all-purpose yards — 85 rushing on 15 carries, 70 receiving on three catches and 79 total on special-teams returns.
“We just needed more of those big plays throughout the game,” Aguilar said. “We did pretty well tonight, but I know we’re definitely better than we showed.”