It’s not often a team’s character is tested in the second game of the season, but Friday night everyone who packed Husky Memorial Stadium for Hughson’s first game at home since winning the 2022 state championship saw the team grow up.
With just over two minutes left in the third quarter of the Huskies’ home opener against Central Valley, senior Damien Alonzo Ruiz left the game after being injured in kickoff coverage.
Cheerleaders and players waited on one knee as coaches tended to the injured Ruiz on the field. After a few minutes, Ruiz was serenaded by applause as he stood up and made his way to the sideline under his own power.
Hughson coach Shaun King could feel it and everyone in the stands could see it. Seeing Ruiz go down flipped a switch on the Hughson sideline. Offensive linemen blocked harder, running backs ran faster and the defense and special teams executed better.
The theme of the Hughson High football team is “We don’t preach family, we live it” and King believes on Friday night his team embodied its motto.
“We had a player go down early in the second half and the team just rallied around him,” King said. “You saw the energy lift up. In that moment, we became a family. It was a pretty special moment.”
On the Huskies’ next offensive possession, Alexander Villarreal capped a three-play drive with a touchdown run. Jesus Artea came away with an interception on the ensuing Central Valley drive, setting up a Villarreal 50-yard touchdown run down the right sideline. The Huskies forced and recovered a fumble on the next kickoff and went on to seal a 56-9 victory.
“You could see the level of play step up,” King said. “I was proud.
“He (Ruiz) is a special player for us and he’s been playing with these guys since the sixth grade. He went down hard and the team all said ‘We got your back’ and you saw it.”
Hughson shows well-balanced attack
Villarreal led a balanced attack for the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI and Division 5-AA state champions. The senior running back finished with 175 rushing yards and three touchdowns, Robert McDaniel threw four touchdowns, a pair of 30-plus yard connections to Larkin Meyer, a 60-yard connection with Malakai Sumter and a two-yard pitch and catch to Max Mankins.
“I’m confident with everyone we have,” McDaniel said. “With (Sumter and Meyer), we’re out there 30 minutes before practice throwing routes so we can get ready and we’re straight into practice ready to go.”
Hughson has only allowed nine points all season. After shutting out Ceres in Week 1, the only points it allowed Friday were on special teams – Central Valley kicked a field goal and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. The Huskies forced a pair of interceptions and blocked a punt.
The Huskies took a 28-3 lead into halftime lead, which increased to 42-9 by the end of the third. The clock ran for the game’s final 10 minutes while each team’s starters stood on the sideline as spectators watched the second string get its taste of Friday night lights.
Sebastian Ocegueda scored the Huskies’ final touchdown on a six-yard run.
“I love getting the backups in and getting them some playing time so they can get some stats,” Meyer said. “It’s great for them to be able to get out there.”
Preparing for the Trans-Valley League
Most 40-point wins come easy but Friday, Hughson at times made the game much harder than it needed to be.
The Huskies had a pair of touchdowns taken off the board due to penalties and a number of false start and holding infractions put the team in multiple first-and-15 situations
“I thought we played OK. … We left points out there,” King said. “(We had) a lot of penalties that we need to clean up. You can’t have those penalties when you’re playing in the TVL.”
The Huskies continue a tough preseason schedule with back-to-back games against Central California Athletic League opponents. They travel to Turlock next week to play Pitman and host Downey on Sept. 8. Their first four games are against schools more than twice their size.
“It’s all about getting ready for the TVL,” King said. “Everybody in the TVL would compete with the same schedule we have. There’s no other league like it.”