As was fitting for the pivotal “Battle of 33,” the Mendota Aztecs and the Firebaugh Eagles squared off to end the regular season last Friday evening. In an exciting contest that went into overtime, Mendota came away with a thrilling 28-21 victory.

The Aztecs shot out to a 21-0 lead behind senior quarterback Juan Ceja.  On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Ceja hit Jesse Rodriguez over the middle for a 61-yard touchdown and an early lead. After the ensuing kickoff, Firebaugh fumbled the ball, and the Aztecs recovered on the Firebaugh 37-yard line. Three plays later, Rodriguez carried the ball in from three yards out for the game’s second touchdown.

The Eagles again turned the ball over, and Mendota capitalized. A tipped pass was intercepted, and the Aztec offense took over on their 39-yard line. Ceja called his own number on a read-option play, rambling down to the Firebaugh 20-yard line. Two plays later, running back Chris Mejia carried the ball in for the score from six yards out.

Firebaugh finally got untracked midway through the second quarter from their 43-yard line. Mixing the pass and run, they marched down to the Mendota 23-yard line before Anthony Fernandez took the ball up the middle for the touchdown.  

With the score 21-7, Firebaugh intercepted a Mendota pass and returned it to the Aztec 18-yard line. One play later, Issac Leyva made a fine catch of a Manuel Bautista pass for Firebaugh’s second touchdown.

Firebaugh completed its comeback in the third quarter when they recovered a muffed punt that put them in business at the Mendota 25-yard line. Firebaugh immediately scored on a swing pass, but it was called back on a holding penalty. Later in the drive, Firebaugh was second and goal from the Mendota 20-yard line. Bautista hit Rodriguez, who made a diving catch at the two-yard line. Bautista carried the ball in to tie the score, 21-21, on a sneak.

In overtime, Ceja hit Aguilar on a 23-yard scoring toss for the first score. The Aztec defense held Firebaugh on downs on their possession and took the victory.  

The Eagles finished the season with a 2-8 record for new head coach Jorge Saldana in the first season.  

He felt his most significant accomplishment for the year was teaching the plays to “love the game.”

“It’s one thing to play the game, but what we wanted to do is have the players really love football and enjoy being out there all the time,” he explained. “Now, I’m ready to move forward to next year. I have a whole notebook full of reflections of this season and what we need to work on in the off-season.”

David Borboa