By Dave Hart
HESPERIA – It was quite a night for Hesperia senior Mack Baird.
The final two stops by Baird helped the Panthers hang on to beat Holton 21-14 on Friday at home in their CSAA Silver Division rivalry game.
The Panthers have now won two straight games against Holton, which means they will get to keep the Golden Football Trophy that goes to the winner for another year.
Hesperia and Holton are both 2-2 on the season.
“At the end it was the determination that we were not going to lose this trophy,” said Hesperia coach Doug Bolles, who announced after the game that he will be stepping down as football coach at the end of the season.
“My hat is off to my guys for finishing it. It was a tale of two halves, and I am proud of our guys for grinding it out.”
The Panthers led 21-0 at halftime, but gave up 14 unanswered points in the second half. They got the ball early in the fourth quarter with a chance to milk the clock and preserve the victory.
They were successful in killing a lot of time, taking the clock almost down to the three minute mark before having to punt.
Then a critical mishap put that effort in jeopardy.
The Panthers snapped the ball way over their punter’s head, giving Holton the ball just inside Hesperia’s 10-yard line with 3:09 remaining.
But the Red Devils shot themselves in the foot by committing two penalties for a loss of 15 yards. That left them with a third-and-goal situation from the 22-yard line.
Hesperia’s Baird broke up one pass in the end zone on third down, then sealed the deal with a pass deflection on fourth down.
“It was a good night overall,” said Baird, just after being named the school’s Homecoming king. “The guys weren’t doing their job in coverage during the second half, which allowed Holton back in the game. I knew that we needed to make a big play and had to stop them at the end.”
The Panthers opened the scoring on their second possession of the game on a five-yard touchdown run by Baird with 1:06 left in the first quarter. An extra point by Jarrett Budde gave Hesperia a 7-0 lead.
Hesperia increased the lead to 14-0 with 6:23 left in the second quarter on a drive that covered 58 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback Johnny Majersky capped the effort with a one-yard run and Budde nailed the extra point.
The Red Devils finally got a first down with just over five minutes left in the second quarter on a 28-yard completion from quarterback Austin Fowler to wideout Kevin Erickson.
But the drive was cut short three plays later, resulting in a punt.
The Panthers then drove 85 yards on six plays, capped by a 45-yard touchdown run by Baird to give the hosts a 21-0 advantage with 1:12 remaining in the first half.
The Red Devils opened the second half with the ball, but Baird ended the threat with an interception on the sixth play of the drive.
Hesperia turned the ball back over on a fumble on the very next play.
Holton then drove the ball 61 yards on eight plays for its first score. The drive ended with a 10-yard touchdown completion from Fowler to wideout Chase Albright.
Fowler ran in the two-point conversion to cut the Red Devils’ deficit to 21-8 with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
Holton kept its comeback attempt alive by recovering an onside kick at its own 43-yard line.
The Red Devils then drove the ball 57 yards on 10 plays, scoring on a 19-yard completion from Fowler to Erickson on the first play of the fourth quarter. They failed to convert on the two-point conversion attempt.
The Panthers finally gained possession of the ball with 11:46 remaining in the game. They melted the clock for over eight minutes before setting up for a punt.
The bad snap gave Holton excellent field position, but a false start and holding penalty pushed the Devils back beyond the 20-yard line, then Baird broke up the two passes to ice the win for Hesperia.
The Panthers were paced by Baird with 201 rushing yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns, while Majersky gained 42 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
Hesperia was led defensively by Gabe Prado with seven tackles and Baird with four.
Holton was paced by Fowler, who went 16-for-26 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Erickson caught eight passes for 143 yards.
The Red Devils were held to just 18 yards rushing.
Holton was led defensively by Dylan Cartwright with 12 tackles and Jaden Israel with 10.