SALINAS — Game breaking speed, moves that buckle knees, hands that can cradle an egg in flight.
If Nyziah Hunter didn’t have a highlight reel to show to potential college recruiters, the fleet Salinas receiver does now.
The junior caught four touchdown passes Friday, compiling over 100 yards in offense for the second straight game as the reigning three-time Gabilan Division champion Cowboys began defense of their title with a 48-8 thumping of Monte Vista.
“He takes advantage of every touch he gets,” Salinas coach Steve Zenk said. “When he’s not getting the ball, he’s blocking and doing everything we want him to do as a receiver. He’s a special talent.”
Dating back to 2019, Salinas has won eight straight league games and is 21-1 in Gabilan Division play since head coach Steve Zenk took the reigns in 2017.
“We have a team that plays together,” Zenk said. “Our team loves each other, plays for each other and plays together. There is good camaraderie out there. We don’t always have to make the right call, because as a team we’re right together.”
Idle last week after poor air quality canceled their game at Placer, the Cowboys have produced 90 points in their first two games, although they did trail by a point in the first quarter for the first time this year.
“We showed a little rust,” Zenk said. “Monte Vista did a nice job in slowing the tempo. It lulled us to sleep a little bit. We got out of our rhythm and let them control the game in the first quarter.”
With the offense needing a few series’ to rediscover that rhythm, Salinas’ defense changed the complexion of the game with one play when Isaiah Duarte stepped in front of a pass and returned 47 yards for a pick six.
The interception return was part of a onslaught in which Salinas ran off 41 straight unanswered points after trailing by a point, opening up a 40 point cushion in the third quarter.
“He changed the momentum,” said Zenk of Duarte. “We weren’t in rhythm on offense in the first quarter. Isaiah makes big plays for us. He’s that guy.”
Duarte was the igniter in Salinas’ season opening win at Half Moon Bay, taking the opening kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown three weeks ago.
“Both those turnovers our defense created in the second quarter really altered the complexion of the game,” said Zenk, whose defense held Monte Vista to 138 total offensive yards.
Zenk was speaking about Juan Acevedo’s 38 yard interception return with under a minute remaining in the first half, setting up a short touchdown run from Damian Morales, as Salinas produced 27 points in just over 10 minutes.
Hunter’s career night was aided by the arm of quarterback Adam Shaffer, who found him on a 62-yard touchdown pass to open the game, with the pair also hooking up on 27 and 23 yards scoring tosses in the first half.
“Adam is doing what he’s suppose to do as a quarterback,” Zenk said. “He gets better with each game. He came into the year with only four games under his belt. He’s had a lot of growth. I’m seeing flashes of his abilities. He does a good job of leading.”
Shaffer is completing over 70 percent of his passes for nearly 600 yards and six touchdowns for Salinas, who will host Aptos next Friday. He escaped trouble on a pair of occasions with his legs to pick up a pair of first downs to keep drives alive.
Monterey 41, North County 0: As good as the Toreadores defense has been through three games, the offense hadn’t kept up — until the second half of Friday’s final non-league tune-up.
Having scored four touchdowns in its first two games, Monterey produced four in the second half, improving to 3-0 for just the second time in seven years.
“We keep making to many mistakes,” Monterey coach Henry Lusk said. “It’s driving me crazy,”
Lusk was referring to a pair of touchdowns called back because of penalties, and two drops in the end zone. On the season, Monterey has had five touchdowns called back because of penalties.
“I am concerned right now,” Lusk said. “My guys weren’t doing what we were suppose to do. We’re stopping ourselves. It’s going to catch up to us if we don’t straightened it out.”
For the second time this year, the Toreadores defense was filthy, holding an opponent without a point. In 12 quarters, the unit has given up just one touchdown going into its Mission Division opener in two weeks against defending Central Coast Section Division V champion Santa Cruz.
“The defense has a swag to them that I like,” Lusk said. “We just have to keep working on offense. One day it will click.”
Matthew Gallagher, who came into the game with three touchdown passes on the season, tossed three more for the Toreadores, connecting with Levi Elmore for a pair and Jkai Thomas for the third time this year.
“He missed a few reads,” Lusk said. “He still has work to do. But Mathew did well. He’ll be fine. It’s a process. Not having a season last year has been factor for us this year.”
For the second time this year, the Condors were shutout, falling to 1-2. In their two losses, they have been outscored 71-0 by two teams that play in higher divisions.
“One bad play for us, turned to two, then three, than an avalanche,” North County coach Juan Cuevas said. “We were confident in our game plan. It stings. It’s a good lesson for us. We’ll cry about it and shift our focus to Soledad. We can make excuses. But Monterey was just better.”
Cuevas had hoped to rattle the Toreadores with a game plan that included several blitz’s. When adjustments were made, North County didn’t have an answer to Monterey’s team speed and physicality.
“The talent level was obvious on film,” Cuevas said. “But we thought we saw weaknesses on film. Monterey is a physical team, adjusted to our game plan and made plays. Not having a weight room during the off-season showed up tonight.”
Thomas has scored five touchdowns for Monterey in three games, returning a punt 65 yards against North County to blow the game open.
“We need the extra week to get ready for Santa Cruz,” said Lusk, speaking about next week’s bye before opening league play. “The more time we get to work out our mistakes, they better we’ll be.”
Contributed by local news sources