By Ryan Menzie
Signal Sports Writer
The Golden Valley Grizzlies (1-1) were without their starting quarterback Jaxson Miner in Friday’s game against the Rio Mesa Spartans (1-2). Yet, the outcome of the game wasn’t inevitable from the start.
The Grizzlies lost their first game of the season in their home opener 20-19 against the Spartans. Filling in for Miner was senior wide receiver and defensive back, also their third-string quarterback, Ryan Garcia.
“You got to play two halves of football,” said Grizzlies head coach Dan Kelley. “Things bounced our way in the first half with turnovers, didn’t go that way the second half. They got physical with us and wore us down the second half.”
Garcia threw an interception in only his third pass of the game that got taken to the house, but a flag on a late hit against Garcia called the touchdown back. Garcia shook off the hit and remained poised, and finished the half with two touchdowns of his own with his 63 yards at halftime. Garcia would finish the game with 68 passing yards.
The Grizzlies’ defense came to play as they shut out the Spartans in the first half and only allowed 49 total yards of offense and forced five turnovers. Of the five turnovers, junior defensive back Ajani Smith, who was also responsible for a 10-yard touchdown, came up with an interception for the Grizzlies.
“(Ryan) Garcia stepped into the fire tonight, there was no one else on the team that could have done what he did,” said Kelley. “We were down a couple guys today. Things went great in the first half. Some positives, but obviously there are negatives that we need to learn and improve on.”
The Spartans would spark a comeback in the second half.
On the first play out of halftime, the Spartans forced a three-and-out and were able to capitalize on a 6-yard touchdown by senior running back Meshylom Tili. To make matters worse, Smith would exit the game midway through the third quarter with a leg injury and would not return for the rest of the game. Smith was seen on the sidelines without pads.
The Spartans would answer with two more touchdowns, one on a 69-yard pass from quarterback Augustin Calderon to wide receiver Sal Maria. On the ensuing kickoff the Spartans were able to recover a short kick, which led to their second touchdown from Tili, this time from 3 yards out. Tili would finish the game with 93 rushing yards.
The Spartans would now take the lead late in the fourth quarter and continue to feed the ball to Tili, ultimately sealing the game.
The Grizzlies’ next game is scheduled against Simi Valley on Friday at 7 p.m. at Simi Valley, which is coming off a 21-10 win against Saugus.