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By Loren Kopff
It had been about five years since Aaron Flowers set foot at Atkins Stadium, the site of his Artesia High playing days from 1990-1992. Last Friday night, he returned to the same field where, as a quarterback for the Pioneers, he threw for 8,873 during his high school career with his father, Norm, the head coach.
But this time, Flowers was on the opposite sideline as the second-year head coach of San Juan Hills and watched his Stallions pull away from the Pioneers in the second half in a 38-13 victory. Flowers, who threw for 3,954 yards as a junior in 1991 and went on to toss 79 touchdowns in his 33-game career, had mixed feelings about the victory.
“It’s bittersweet because I’m glad that we played well enough to win but obviously I want the best for [Artesia] and [its] program as well,” Flowers said.
Flowers is also among the Top 10 in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section record books with 13 straight completions, which he accomplished against Norwalk in 1991, and seven touchdowns in a game, which occurred against Gahr in 1992.
“Aaron is a competitor like anybody else,” said Artesia head coach Joe Veach. “He wanted to win this game. I think he obviously wants to see our program do well and I talk to him about it all the time.”
Veach admitted that it was a different feeling and joked that he wondered if Flowers knew what signals Veach was sending his players.
The Pioneers took a 6-0 lead following a time consuming drive that was kept alive when the Stallions were assessed a roughing the punter penalty deep in Artesia territory. With 5:10 elapsed in the game, senior quarterback Francisco Galan connected with junior wide receiver Tytus Simmons for a 25-yard score. San Juan Hills bounced back and took a 7-6 lead when Brad Kremer scored from a yard out.
The possible turning point of the game came when Galan had a pass tipped, which landed in the hands of Brennan Walsh who returned it 21 yards to the house to make it 14-6 with 1:56 left in the first quarter. Galan struggled in the quarter, going for of 10 for 37 yards but fared much better in the second quarter when he went seven of 11 for 38 yards. But Galan was also the victim of several dropped passes which drew the ire of Veach.
“The drops are drive-killers because on second and eight, we drop a six-yard hitch and that’s a big difference between third and eight and third and two,” Veach said. “We had a lot of drops that were drive-killers. We had a couple of penalties that were bad. That’s the third week in a row that we had a personal foul that killed a drive. That’s just mental, stupid stuff that we do that we have to stop.”
The Stallions scored their third touchdown midway through the second quarter but Artesia (1-2) trimmed its deficit with 5:27 remaining in the half as sophomore running back Christian Rodriguez swept around the left side and matriculated 53 yards for his second rushing touchdown in as many games, the other one going for 60 yards. Rodriguez, a freshman sensation towards the end of last season, led the Pioneers with 93 yards on six carries. He also caught seven passes for 35 yards.
“We’re just trying to find different ways to get him the football all the time,” Veach said. “Whether we’re snapping to him, handing it to him or throwing to him…he’s electric with the football. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Stallions put the game away in the third quarter with two touchdowns in less than a minute. In between those two scores was a fumble at the Artesia 35-yard line. It was the second fumble of the third quarter. Galan finished the game 18 of 37 for 128 yards and had at least nine balls that were either dropped or tipped. Galan also picked up 55 yards on 10 carries.
“First of all, they have good coaches and they’re doing the right things,” Flowers said. “They did some things to us tonight that caused us some fits. Ultimately, they have good players too and it’s just a matter of them sticking to the plan and just keep plugging away.”
Flowers is hoping to do something his father did from 2003-2007. Norm Flowers, in his second stint with the Pioneers, replaced Robert Boyd three games into the 2003 season and although the team went 1-9 that year, he guided Artesia to three straight playoff trips after that. San Juan Hills went 0-10 last season but is now 3-0.
“I haven’t done anything with this program,” Aaron Flowers said. “Our kids, just from day one after the season ended last year, set goals for themselves and they hit those goals and they’ve been working their butts off. This is what ends up happening.”
Artesia now gets set to visit Gahr tonight with the Gladiators hoping to win the coveted Milk Barrel that goes to the winner of the ABC School District. Gahr has been the kings of the district three years in a row and five of the last six.
“They have a philosophy on offense and they stick to it,” Veach said.
“They’re going to throw the ball all over the place and get it to their athletes. That’s what they do. It’s tough to stop. They have great athletes over there. They lost two good ones from last year’s team but they still have five guys who are on the field at all times that can go and are threats every time they touch the football.”
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