Mineral Wells Area News

Santo blanks Chico to snap four-game skid

Santo blanks Chico to snap four-game skid
October 09
14:35 2023


Special to Mineral Wells Area News

SANTO – The Santo Wildcats coaching staff unleashed a new offensive weapon late in Friday’s night win: The Bulldozer.

Massive lineman Brett Hamilton showed he can do more than block and tackle – he can run with the ball with some speed and agility.

The Santo Wildcats ram wild on Homecoming Night. They lead the Chico Dragons 34-0 at halftime.

Two Santo other linemen also had carries, including Branden Firth whose 4-yard touchdown run capped the scoring on what was a fun night of Wildcats football, a 41-0 victory over the Chico Dragons on homecoming night.

It was a game Santo desperately needed. The win ended a four-game losing skid for Santo to improve to 2-4 on the season, 1-1 in District 8-2A-2 action.

Santo Head Coach Devon Mann was happy to be able to play their first game of the season in their stadium, and was even happier with the win. With Kalder Halbrook making his third start at quarterback replacing the injured Hut Thornton, who is out for the season, Mann and his staff hope the team has found its new footing and is ready to challenge for the district title.

“We played a tough pre-season schedule,” he said. “We faced some adversity and change in the quarterback position. Everyone’s identity at quarterback is a little different. You have to find out what works for them and what their identity is. I think we have done that. I think we have made some leaps and bounds in the last two weeks and gelling with somebody in there and trying to get that going.”

Santo takes a 41-0 win over Chico on homecoming night.

The loss dropped Chico to 1-6 on the year, 0-3 in district. It was the Dragons’ sixth straight loss.

Santo totaled (unofficially) 365 yards of total offense. That number could have been significantly higher if not for Chico’s offensive struggles and miscues against the Wildcats’ defense that gave Santo short fields throughout the first half.

The Wildcats scored on their first five possessions. Their last possession of the first half ended with the expiration of the clock. Leading 34-0 at intermission, the team was once again firing on all cylinders.

“I have been very pleased,” Mann said. “We’ve gotten better every week. Adversity is going to happen. It’s how we handle it. These guys have handled it great. They keep showing up at practice and getting after it. There is still a lot of ball to play.”

Sandra Yanez is the 2023 Santo High School Homecoming Queen.

Santo took the opening kickoff at its 35 and immediately put its flexbone offense to work. Halbrook ran for 18 yards on first down. Running back Memphis Prosser added 7 yards, and then on the third play of the game RB Hunter Branham took the ball, ran around the left side of the line and raced untouched 40 yards for a touchdown. Kevin Valenzuela’s extra-point made it 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the contest.

Chico’s offense, especially its line, was no match for the Wildcat defenders who wreaked havoc in the Dragons’ backfield. Chico was unable to pick up as much as a first down on their five first possessions.

Following a 14-yard punt, Santo’s second possession began at Chico’s 40. That resulted in the second Wildcats TD on the night, an 11-yard run through the heart of the Dragons’ defense by Justin Hollingsworth to put Santo up 14-0 midway through the opening quarter.

The Wildcats added three second quarter touchdowns. Hollingsworth scored from 4 yards out to cap a 13-play, 59-yard possession. The PAT was no good. A big punt return by Branham set Santo up at Chico’s 21. On the second play Halbrook called his own number and scampered in from 22 yards out to put Santo up 27-0.

Primarily a running offense, Santo on average attempts a handful of passes a game. That leads opposing defenses to often crowd the box, putting nine or, as Chico did at times, 10 players within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage to defend the Santo ground attack.

The Wildcats coaches took advantage of that tactic for Santo’s final score of the first half. Chico helped by attempting a fake punt on its end of the field, only to fumble the ball to Santo. Starting at the Dragons’ 26, Santo had two false start penalties before Halbrook dropped back and threw a perfect strike over the defense to Prosser, who streaked wide open past the surprised Chico defenders and hauled in the 35-yard touchdown toss.

Santo was also successful at times throwing into the flats and with some middle routes intended to back Chico’s defense off the line.

“We saw a nine-man box” said Mann. “In this offense we are used to seeing that. We have our rules and they executed what we needed to do there. They did a really good job of getting us going. We had some good screen passes and little crossing routes. We were able to get the ball going in there. The more aggressive that they are going to be in the box it is going to open that up.”

Down 34-0 coming out of the halftime locker room, Chico suddenly found offensive success. The Dragons took the second half kickoff and kept the ball the entire third quarter, picking up five first downs as it drove down the field. Early in the fourth quarter, Chico faced fourth-and-goal from the Wildcats 9. A pass attempt on an out route in the end zone was caught but the receiver was unable to get a foot down inbounds.

Now with the ball for the first time in the half, Halbrook peeled off a 10-yard run then took off for 77 yards downfield before he was pulled down at the 4. That led to Firth’s running score for the final margin of victory. Santo got the ball back and ran out the clock for the win.

The Wildcats travel to Lindsey on Friday to face a Knights team that is 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in district after defeating Era, 41-14. Coach Mann said the 7 p.m. game will be a big test for the Wildcats.

“That game will have some big district implications going on in it,” Mann said. “They have been doing some good stuff, too. They are a pistol-flex bone and we are more of an under-center flexbone so it will be kind of fun to but those two brands out there against each other. We are excited for the opportunity. We will take one day of practice at a time and get ready to go.”

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