The Coronado Islanders football team just three games in have shown on a number of occasions just how resilient of a group they are; and following a brutal last second loss to Sweetwater, their resiliency was once again tested as they hit the road to face the Sultans of Santana High School in front of a packed Friday night lights crowd.
From the get-go of Friday night’s game, there were many glaring similarities to the Islanders’ past contest vs. Sweetwater.
In the first quarter, the Islander defense was an immovable object. The Coronado defense forced two turnover-on-downs thanks to excellent play in the defensive backfield from corners Logan Eastlick and Connor Little, who were both credited with pass breakups on 4th down attempts.
While the defense continued to hum, it was up to the offense to put some points on the board. And to their credit there were some improvements.
Late in the first quarter, the Islanders put together a strong drive thanks to 15+ yard plays. One was coming off an excellent jump cut run by RB Steven Davis for 22 yards. The other was a well executed screen pass from QB Graham Bower to WR Connor Little to move the ball just outside the red zone.
But much like the week prior, the drive stalled. A pair of negative plays moved the Islanders out of the red zone and left them with 0 points on the scoreboard.
In the second quarter, the story remained much the same. The Coronado defense would stand tall under all circumstances, recording three three-and-outs in the second quarter. But its most impressive and perhaps game-saving moment came in the first half’s final minutes.
Following a Coronado turnover on a fumbled swing pass, Santana would possess the ball at the 40-yard line and quickly work into the red zone on three straight power zone runs. But just when the Islanders’ defense might’ve let a TD slip in, they stood tall.
The Islander defense generated back-to-back negative plays thanks to a sack by JT Nelson on 1st and goal and then a combined five-yard tackle for loss by Abraham Berke and Kieran Ramirez. Then on 3rd and goal, LB Elias Valdivia turned in another highlight play as he stopped the Santana RB in his tracks at the line of scrimmage.
“I’m so proud of how our defense stepped up tonight,” said Islander Head Coach Kurt Hines . “In every phase they played exceptional football. They made big plays when needed and kept us in the game. They were huge for us.”
The stonewalling would result in a field goal attempt that Santana would miss wide right, keeping the game tied at 0-0 heading to the half.
Coming out of the half, the Islanders would continue to pitch a shutout and in the third quarter keep Santana off the board yet again. In the quarter, the Islander defense tallied three sacks. One each from Valdivia, Nelson, and Saxton Sylvester. The Islander DBs Little, Eastlick and Jaden Banner (who would turn in an INT later in the fourth) also tallied a PBU. Their efforts helped the game remain tied.
As we entered the fourth quarter, the Islander offense finally started to click. Midway through, the Islander offense put its best drive together thanks to nice QB runs by Bower. And finally, with 6:30 to play, Coronado would find pay dirt.
On 1st and 10 at the Santana, Bower took a snap from shotgun and found WR Valdivia on a bench route. Valdivia would high point the ball, break a tackle, and scamper into the endzone to score the game’s first points and make it a 7-0 Nado lead.
“ I’ve been coaching for 25 years now, and Elias Is the definition of game-changer,” said Hines. “He stepped up and made big play after big play tonight. He does everything the right way; he works hard, he’s humble, and he’s not braggadocious. He’s a playmaker.”
However, the feeling of joy was short-lived as on the ensuing Santana possession the Sultans turned in a 60-yard TD pass tying the game at 7-7 and effectively sending the game to overtime.
It would have been easy for the Islanders to roll over and say, “here we go again” after last week’s heartbreak. Instead, they responded as a championship team would.
On the first play of overtime, Coronado came out in a wildcat formation as Valdivia took the direct snap. The superstar senior proceeded to run down the near sideline, break six tackles, and with an extra push from his Islander teammates, take it to the crib for a 25 TD run, making it a 14-7 game on one of the most exciting Islander plays this season.
But just as quickly as they scored in OT, so did Santana. The Sultans had just two plays before connecting on a 30-yard TD pass to make it a 14-13 game. But rather than going for a tie to extend the game, the Sultans went for the two-point conversion.
The Sultans ran a pass play, rolling everything to the right of play fake, but the Islander defense was not fooled. Coronado’s defense was air tight and forced a game clinching INT, giving them the thrilling 14-13 victory over Santana, and moving their record to 2-1.
The Islanders will return to action this Friday, September 9 with their first home game of the season vs. Mar Vista (Imperial Beach) at 6:30pm at Niedermeyer Field.
“We just need to keep getting 1% better,” said Hines. “We need to come in focused and be ready to do the little things right. Mar Vista always plays us tough, they’re our cross town rivals, and we’re looking forward to a good game.”