July 20, 2024
Senior running back AJ Cenizal finished with 248 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in Mitty's home opener.

LOS ALTOS HILLS — The Archbishop Mitty offensive line split the Aptos defense Friday night just enough to give running back AJ Cenizal room to squeeze through. Cenizal shook off a tackle or two before seeing only grass separating him from the end zone. That’s when he turned on the jets.

“I felt like I’m flying,” Cenizal recalled of his 83-yard rushing touchdown. “I look back and [an Aptos player was] closing in. It felt a little like a horror movie.”

But in this film, Cenizal almost always found a way to escape and break through tackles for double-digit gains in Mitty’s 41-28 win against a tough Aptos squad to improve to 2-0 on the season.

Cenizal might be only 5-foot-7 and weigh 185 pounds, but the senior running back plowed through the Mariners time and time again Friday at Foothill College, Mitty’s usual home site. During the Monarchs’ second scoring drive, Cenizal recorded back-to-back 19-yard gains. It took four Aptos players to stop him from getting any further on the latter run.

Moments later, he waltzed into the end zone for his second touchdown — a four-yard rush — to put the Monarchs up 14-0.

“That’s the AJ we know,” Mitty coach Danny Sullivan said. “We think he’s one of the best backs around, and I don’t know how many times he’ll be taken down by the first guy, but it’s pretty rare.”

Cenizal ran for a whopping 248 yards on 24 carries, with 194 of those yards coming in the first half.

“I owe that to the line,” said Cenizal, who sat part of the fourth quarter to tend to a pesky calf cramp. “They’re always backing me up on everything.” That includes seniors Eric Robles and Jon Skeet as well as juniors Dylan Beigi and Alex Bleszynski. Cenizal also lauded lineman Santiago Hardesty, who stepped up in place of the injured Dan Cosentino.

Aptos managed to erase Mitty’s 14-point leads in each half.

The Mariners started to gain momentum in the second quarter. Running back Lawrence Ingram IV ran up the middle to get Aptos on the board. On the subsequent kick return, a holding flag brought back what would’ve been a 60-plus yard kick return for Mitty senior Toju Maku. Two plays later, Mariners cornerback Jordan Torres picked off quarterback Joey Campagna and returned it for a touchdown to even the score.

But the Monarchs managed to maintain their composure.

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Mitty senior receiver Justin Mendes had a breakthrough night. Quarterback Joey Campagna found him four times for 96 yards. The two connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass to put Mitty up 28-14 with 23 seconds remaining in the first half. Mendes also caught an 11-yard touchdown at the end of the game.

“It’s a great feeling,” Mendes said. “That’s my first time really getting to shine in the spotlight and I just took advantage of it.”

The Mariners tied the game early in the fourth, but the home team responded by scoring 13 unanswered points.

Long-time Aptos coach Randy Blakenship said he was proud of how hard his team played but acknowledged they made too many lethal mistakes.

“We made [Cenizal] look good,” Blakenship said. “He ran through some tackles, but when you arm tackle people, that’s going to happen. But he’s got a good burst and he has great balance. So they’re a good football team. It’s not like we lost to Molly Putz.”

Both teams return to action next Friday. Mitty (2-0) will square off with fellow San Jose school Santa Teresa in its final non-league game before West Catholic play begins. Aptos (0-2) will take on Mission College Prep in San Luis Obispo.

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