Modesto High senior Matt Henriques hardly ever leaves the field – fullback on offense, inside linebacker on defense and, yes, truth-talker at halftime.
For the second straight game, the Panthers’ leader inspired his teammates with an important message. And, to back it up, he won the game for Modesto, denying a spirited challenge by Gregori.
Henriques’ interception and 38-yard touchdown return with 10:09 left gave the Panthers a 10-point lead, just enough to hold off the Jaguars 31-27 Friday night before about 3,000 at Don Lanphear Stadium.
Gregori quarterback Cam Calton, trying to pass as he was pulled down from behind by Connor Sawyer, tossed it to Henriques, who raced down the sideline. It was the game’s only turnover, coming only seconds after Serafin Alberto’s short field goal put Modesto ahead for the first time, and it proved decisive.
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“It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for him (Sawyer),” Henriques said. “I was in coverage and was in the right place at the right time.”
3 The number of MMC games left for MMC leader Modesto
Henriques’ modesty belies his standing on the Modesto Metro Conference’s first-place team (5-2, 3-0). He’s a three-year varsity star, a warrior who lifts his team with both his words and his pads.
“He told the guys to put hats on the ball,” Modesto coach Donnie Wallace said. “It’s easy to coach with kids like him.”
Modesto, off last week after its pulsating win over Downey, struggled during the first half against a motivated Gregori team (4-3, 1-2) on homecoming night.
Running back Demetrius Vinson continued his strong season by rushing for 124 yard on 23 carries. Each of his three first-half touchdowns, on runs of 17, 7 and 6 yards, vaulted the Jaguars into the lead. Pushing forward behind Gregori’s mauling offensive line, Vinson and his teammates dominated possession time for the game’s first 18 minutes.
“Our offensive line has only one returning starter returner. They’re getting better,” Gregori coach Jason McCoy said. “I think we showed flashes of a pretty good team.”
In fact, it was arguably Gregori’s best effort this season. But Modesto switched to an odd-man front on defense in the second half. Vinson’s yards were minimized.
It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for him (Connor Sawyer). I was in coverage and was in the right place at the right time
Modesto’s Matt Henriques on his pick-6 touchdown
“I’m going to be exhausted (Saturday),” Vinson said. “Modesto closed the holes. I couldn’t cut back like in the first half.”
Nevertheless, Gregori cut the deficit to 31-27 with an 80-yard march capped by Calton’s arching 14-yard lob to Nathan Duffy with 1:15 to go. The onside kick was recovered by Ricardo Martinez, however, and the Panthers exhaled.
Modesto spots opponents more than a few pounds each week, but the resourceful Panthers somehow counter. They parried Gregori’s thrusts with big plays for touchdowns – a 51-yard keeper by quarterback Max McCabe (19 of 24 for 178 yards), a 95-yard kickoff return by Markus Brady, and McCabe’s 8-yard pass to Dylon Jackson for a 21-21 tie with 34 seconds left in the half.
“They (Gregori) came out and took it to us,” Wallace said. “Our kids rallied in the second half and came out with some passion.”
None more passionate than Henriques.