San Lorenzo Valley High senior quarterback Jaden Hunter used his legs most of the afternoon in Saturday’s game against Arroyo High of San Lorenzo, moving the chains for first downs and rumbling his way into the end zone three times.
He finished with a game-high 114 yards rushing on 15 carries and three touchdowns in a 39-20 win against the Dons in non-league action.
Hunter also went 4-of-9 through the air for 88 yards passing and a touchdown, a 32-yard strike to receiver Dominic Chiechi in the first quarter.
They never looked back after the opening score but Hunter said the game didn’t start out as planned, especially for him. He fumbled the ball on a handoff exchange on the first play of the game.
There was also a point in the second quarter when it looked like the team captain and leader of the squad was done for the day after he re-injured a left ankle that had been bothering him earlier this season.
But it didn’t take long for Hunter to return as he finished the game by scoring two second-half rushing touchdowns.
“[My ankle] hurts but I want to play. All I want to do is be on the field,” he said.
After the fumble, the Cougars also took the time to regroup and they realized that the passing game was going to be much more effective. Hunter noticed that Arroyo’s defensive backs couldn’t guard Chiechi in one-on-one situations.
“They were stopping the run pretty good so we wanted to widen them out and throw it a little bit,” he said. “They got one-on-one coverage and I just threw a nice ball to Dom [Chiechi] and he went up and got it.”
SLV’s special teams came through on the ensuing kickoff after Malcolm Deguara recovered a fumble on the Dons’ 27-yard line.
They capitalized on the turnover as Hunter extended the Cougars’ lead to 13-0 with a 1-yard touchdown with 3:55 left in the opening stanza.
Arroyo cut the deficit to 13-6 in the second quarter with a touchdown. The drive capped off with a 3-yard touchdown from senior running back Tony Estes, but that’s as close as they’d get.
The Cougars quickly responded on the ensuing kickoff after Matthew Carney returned it 75 yards for the score. He said once he saw the hole open up it was time to turn on the afterburners and he sprinted his way to the end zone.
“It was a good momentum change for sure, it got the game fired up a little bit,” he said.
Hunter was on the bench when he saw Carney, his best friend since second grade, zip past the defenders and he began running down the field with him.
“As a quarterback, when you have to put up the points on the board usually, and your defense or special teams takes one to the house, it’s just an electric feeling,” he said.
Hunter said he knew they’d be able to win as long as they continued to put points on the board and shut down Arroyo with defensive stops. SLV held the Dons to just six points in the second half. Ronnie Yalung threw a touchdown pass to James Nguyen as time expired.
Carney said getting the win is a huge confidence booster for them as they head into Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division play against North Monterey County High on Sept. 25 at 2pm.
“We’ll be coming in there 2-0, ready to fight,” he said.
Other schools in the division include Watsonville High, Rancho San Juan High, Pacific Grove High, King City High and rival Scotts Valley High.
SLV coach Andrew Milich said this year’s team is a special group and they’ve bought into the idea of building a brotherhood despite not being able to play the first two games of the season.
“They believe in each other, they fight for each other,” he said. “We got to believe in those goals and that’s what I think is the most important.”
Milich said they’ve played mistake-free football as of late and they want to continue building off of the victory.
“We won but now I gotta get ready for North Monterey,” he said.
Milich mentioned that the wins are important, but, for them, it’s all about being able to get two games under their belt and learning the speed of the game. He said they have some players that still don’t have a lot of experience and they need to get up to game flow with league play right around the corner.
“What’s important is next week, we’re 0-0,” he said. “It’s back to the beginning, we’re at square one.”
The Cougars also have a make-up game at Los Altos High on Oct. 21 at 7pm, which was supposed to be played Sept. 3 but was postponed due to Covid-19 protocols. Their season opener against George Washington High was canceled.
After the win, Hunter said that the atmosphere in the locker room was nothing like he’s ever been a part of in the past.
“I wouldn’t choose anyone else to play with for my senior year,” he said. “These are my best friends, my brothers and I love every single one of them … This is what SLV football is all about.”
At SLV 39, Arroyo 20
Up Next: North Monterey County
When: Sept. 25 at 2 p.m.