Panthers Take Down Los Medanos 44-21

Panther defense celebrates after forcing a fumble and recovering it.
Panther defense celebrates after forcing a fumble and recovering it.

The Hartnell Football team hit on all cylinders on Sept. 25, producing their season's first victory, over Los Medanos, 44-21, at Rabobank Stadium.

"Getting this win is pivotal in gaining momentum going into our next game," Head Coach Matt Collins told the Monterey Herald. "It's nice to point out the positives."

Quarterback JP Garcia led the Panthers on offense with his best performance so far. He completed 22 of 37 passes for a season-high 321 yards and four touchdowns. Two of Garcia's four touchdown passes went to wide receiver Micah Olivas, including a five-yard toss on Hartnell's opening drive.

After Los Medanos answered with a touchdown, the Panthers went to work. They marched 85 yards, finishing with a 28-yard TD touchdown pass to Ryan Luke.

As both teams found their groove, the Panthers converted on two more drives in the second quarter. Running back Payton Flores scored on a six-yard run to extend Hartnell's lead to 21-7.

Los Medanos wouldn't go away, adding a touchdown and cutting the lead to 21-14.

But the Panthers had one more answer before the half. Following fourth-down catch by Olivas for eight yards, Garcia connected with Josiah Freeman for a 41-yard score to put the Panthers up by two touchdowns.

The Mustangs came right back with a touchdown to open the second half, but then the Panther defense took over. They forced Los Medanos to turn it over on downs twice deep in Panther territory, recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass and forced a safety.

Meanwhile Garcia and Company went to work. After the Mustangs turned it over on downs, the Panthers drove and scored on a 43-yard pass from Garcia to Olivas, giving them a cushion at 35-21.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers' special teams made a big-time play, forcing a fumble that was recovered by defensive back Jason Flores. Payton Flores then took back-to-back handoffs – first for 26 yards and then a six-yard punch across the goal line, extending the lead to 42-21.

Flores ran a season-high 22 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns, and he caught six passes for 79 yards. The wide receivers also had a feast. Josiah Freeman caught three passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, Olivas finished with six receptions for 66 yards and two scores, Ryan Luke caught four passes for 45 yards, and Ivan Curiel caught three for 36 yards.

The Panthers (1-2) will travel to De Anza on Oct. 2. Game time is 1 p.m. The Mountain Lions have an identical record, after also losing their first two before beating Gavilan on Sept. 25.

"It's not who you play but how you play," Collins told the Herald. "It's about improving each week. It's tough to sell when you don't get a 'W.' We have had our share of setbacks, but we've tried to preach resilience and focus on the things we can control."