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Photo by Chelsea Buchanan
The Aztecs' Jonas Linebaugh (55) makes a tackle alongside teammate Tracy Venable (in foreground) in Friday's win over Silverado at Barstow High School.

Barstow on brink of league title

BARSTOW • Aztecs football is on a roll, and at just the right time.

With one game remaining in the regular season, Barstow hosted Silverado Friday night and turned around a halftime six-point deficit into an eight-point victory, as the Aztecs beat the Hawks, 25-17, at Barstow High School.

Not only was it the Aztecs’ third win in a row, coming on the heels of last week’s big overtime romp over Hesperia, but it put Barstow in a position to capture a Desert Sky League title. A win next week would give the Aztecs at least a share of the championship.
Understandably, it was quite an emotional night for head coach Mike Esposito. After his team won only one game last year, the second-year skipper was a bit overcome by what Friday’s game represnted.

“Silverado has had our number for years. They’re a huge school with a ton of talent,” he said after having an emotional postgame word with his team. “Nobody gave us a shot tonight. Calpreps (.com) had us losing by 30.”

The Hawks did control the game early on. James Noble scored the only Aztecs touchdown of the first half, on an impressive run of about 60 yards. The Hawks held a 17-11 halftime edge, and even though his team trailed, the fact that they were in comfortable striking distance left Esposito encouraged.

“I told the guys at halftime, we made so many mental errors in the first half, but we’re still in it,” he said. “I told them to stay patient, even if we get down, stick with the game plan. These guys came through.”

The second half belonged to the home team. With 7:41 left in the third quarter, the Aztecs took the lead, as Noble made another long run, this one about 50 yards, for a touchdown to tie the game. Sultan Hamdan followed with another good kick, putting Barstow up, 18-17.

“I told Noble in practice this week, you’ll be doing a lot of running,” laughed Esposito. “As for Hamdan, he’s been automatic for us this year. He’s done a great job.”

That Aztecs score gave possession back to the Hawks, but they gave it up quickly. Just 25 seconds after the TD, a Silverado fumble was recovered by Barstow’s David Green, halting the Hawks’ momentum. After a pair of touchdowns in the first half, they’d be held scoreless in the second.

Noble found the end zone one more time, on another impressive run. He scored with just 19 seconds left in the game, to ice the win.

Noble finished with over 200 yards rushing. He’s had a great run with the Aztecs this season, and it’s not over yet. The senior, like his coach, was a little emotional after Friday’s big win.

“I’m so happy right now,” he said, insisting that it was Esposito that got him misty. “Before the season I had my doubts about how far we’d go, but after we won our first game, I knew this team is for real. I love this team. It’s my family away from my family.”

Hamdan is also winning in his senior year. He’s taken the season one goal at a time, goals the team has been meeting with regularity.

“We really wanted the Axe,” he said, referring to the Oct. 12 Axe Game win over Victor Valley, the first of the current three-game streak. “Now we want to win the league. To win both the Axe and the league in my senior year would be unbelievable.”

Granite Hills stands between the Aztecs and a shot at the title. The Cougars are winless this year, and dropped a 60-0 decision to Apple Valley on Friday. Still, they’d be happy to play spoiler, so Barstow can’t afford to let up next week.

“We hold a lot of tie-breakers, so if we win next week we’ll have at least a share of the title,” said Esposito. “These kids are as tough as anyone we play. We won’t change a thing next week. We’ll practice hard this week and roll the dice.

“A home game is always a plus. We’ll have the crowd behind us.”

There’s a 7 p.m. kick-off for next Friday’s tilt with the Cougars.

Noble will be ready.

“This is the team I want to win with,” said the Aztec senior. “I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else. This is my team.”

A team that’s in line to be the DSL champ.

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