By Pat Turner
Jay took a giant step last year in making the Class 6A Division I playoffs.
Although the reaching that pinnacle was quite an accomplishment, it’s how the Mustangs got there that made it memorable.
After all, it was an adventurous trek to say the least as the Mustangs (7-4, 3-2), who lost to Smithson Valley in bi-district, turned in clutch performances, including a 47-46 win over Clark and a 58-57 overtime victory over Brandeis where a two-point conversion sealed the deal in the final game of the season.
Through that success, confidence was built, along with a hunger for more.
Now, the 2018 is underway and the Mustangs are making their move toward that goal.
Jay opened the year with a 45-29 win at Laredo LBJ. This past week, the Mustangs started District 28-6A with a 36-28 victory over Clark.
That is pleasing to the sixth-year head coach, who has watched his Mustangs battled through challenges along the way.
“Everybody wants microwave success,” Gutierrez said. “One of the things we have worked on is building a foundation and letting the kids know we care and love them. We feel we have been consistent in our message. That has helped develop our players.
“We’ve always celebrated small victories. And small victories turn into big victories. We had a few of those last year. That has allowed us to be more successful and established the confidence in what we’re doing.
Players returning from that experience are making an early impact, starting with an explosive offense.
Quarterback Jay Zeno, who has passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns and run for 115 yards and three touchdowns, and running back Jaylin Hastings (419 yards and six touchdowns) have made a potent 1-2 combination.
In addition, there’s quality receivers in Marcus Alcaraz, Danny Amezquita, Jonathon Huron and Adrian De La Garza. Linemen Max Vicuna, Rafeal Thrash, Ben Garcia, Orlando Ramos and Michael Taylor are providing plenty of protection.
Defensively, key plays are coming from secondary mates Kenneth Vigil, Justyce Sheridan, Andri Mobley, Israel Escatel and Nick Sanchez, along with linemen Thomas Kelly, Marcus Smith, Leo Gonzales, Edward Salazar and Isreal Fuentes. Leading the linebacking corps are Diego Jasso, who moved from safety, Sanford Jones and Jayshawn Darby.
“We’ve had a good start, but there’s still a lot of things we have to fix,” Gutierrez said. “I’m pleased with the way our kids have been able to adjust. We have some young kids, but they’re athletic and learning fast.”
A knack for adjusting was the key for the Mustangs’ in their wild encounter with Clark.
Zeno’s 34-yard touchdown run, and Hastings’ 54-yard burst gave Jay a 13-0 lead in the first quarter.
Clark came back with Christopher Ozcan’s 8-yard touchdown run. Jay countered with Jonathan Gonzales’ 26-yard field goal.
Then it became a back-and-forth scoring event.
Kenneth Bivings scored for Clark on a 26-yard run. Zeno capped a Jay drive with a 1-yard plunge and Ozcan followed with a 35-yard scoring jaunt,
Zeno then hit Huron on a 29-yard TD pass and the Cougars got another touchdown on Ben Hooper’s 8-yard strike to Micah Thomas.
Zeno added the finishing touch for Jay with his 22-yard touchdown sprint with 53 seconds remaining. The Mustangs’ defense then held of Clark’s last attempt at a comeback.
Still, the key to the success is being sound in all areas.
“In this district the margin for error is small,” the Jay coach said. “Every game is going to be tough. Consistency is going to be the key in this district.
“Whoever can develop that consistency pattern is going to be successful. It’s going to be a fun year in District 28-6A.”
Gutierrez is finding other reasons to be excited.
Overall, interest in football is building in the Jay community. Numbers are up in the overall program, which has five sub-varsity teams. Gutierrez and his staff also stay in contact with the feeder (middle) schools.
In addition, there’s a youth football league creating a love for the game.
“We have the Junior Mustangs and that’s been really good,” Gutierrez said. “We have some pride developing. We get to be involved with them. We’re seeing kids wanting to grow up to be Mustangs. We want to see them develop a love for football.”