A change at quarterback couldn’t help the Gila Ridge Hawks on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The offensive struggles continued in the Hawks’ 35-7 loss to Imperial (Calif.) and Gila Ridge drops to 0-3 for the first time since 2013. Plagued by turnovers, Gila Ridge’s offense mustered one touchdown, which came with less than a minute remaining and the game out of reach.
Sophomore quarterback Leo Valencia earned his first career varsity start and looked formidable at times. He completed 18-of-31 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. The downfall? Valencia tossed four interceptions – three of them in the redzone on crucial driving opportunities.
“He’s young at his position,” Gila Ridge head coach Jessica Slaughter said. “And he wanted to go for the deep ball, I understand it, but we have to get him to read what the defense gives him and hit the shorter routes. They were there (tonight).”
Valencia will be the first one to admit his costly mistakes left points off the scoreboard, but Friday had plenty of teachable moments. The sophomore looked smooth in the passing game and locked in with two receivers that continually moved the chains for the Hawks’ offense, but the redzone woes is an area Valencia knows he must improve.
“Moving down the field, I thought I did good,” Valencia said. “But the endzone mistakes, I need to stop. It was my first start, but I need to do better.”
While Gila Ridge squandered redzone opportunities, the Hawks’ defense was gashed for over 400 total yards of offense and seemed to have no answer for Imperial quarterback Chris Ternian. The junior didn’t check in until the second quarter, but made the most of his time when he received the snaps.
Teirnan accounted for two of Imperial’s five offensive touchdowns.
“His ability to read our corners (is how) he took advantage,” Slaughter said.
In the Hawks’ home debut, they trailed 14-0 at the half, yet energy and urgency to make a comeback was noticeable on the sidelines to begin the final 24 minutes.
“Leaving the first half, the team was fired up,” Slaughter said. “Nothing we couldn’t come back from. They were fired up coming out of the locker room, but defensively we couldn’t stop (Imperial). We couldn’t stop the pass or the run. That’s something we’re going to have to look at … But all fixable things.”
Slaughter noted the Hawks’ camaraderie was improved in Friday’s loss.
“Everyone was pushing each other,” she said. “We just made mistakes on our end.”