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SUBURBAN LEAGUE FOOTBALL
By Loren Kopff
BELLFLOWER-Ask Artesia head coach Joe Veach if he thinks senior quarterback Francisco Galan should be the Suburban League’s most valuable player, and he’ll ask, ‘what about sophomore Cristian Rodriguez’? If you ask him if Rodriguez should get the top honors, he’ll let you know that Galan should be in those same discussions.
Those two had a big hand in the fourth quarter of last Friday night’s critical football game as Artesia scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and rallied to stun host Bellflower 35-27 at Ron Yary Stadium. Galan rushed for 168 yards on 26 carries, including a huge 24-yard gain on fourth and one to end the third quarter, and Rodriguez added 124 yards on 11 touches and scored a pair of one-yard touchdowns in the final stanza.
“We really instill on them that when the fourth quarter starts, I don’t care what the score is,” Veach said. “We need to play harder than the other team. Once we got to the fourth quarter, I started seeing the kids get up for the fourth quarter and they started chanting ‘fourth quarter, our quarter’. Right there I knew we were going to be in this thing.”
It was the biggest fourth quarter rally for the Pioneers (2-6 overall, 1-3 in league) in well over 10 years. In fact, Artesia scored more than 23 points twice last season and only once in 2010.The victory also equaled the total from the past three seasons combined.
With Bellflower leading 27-12, Galan tossed a seven-yard pass to Rodriguez to open the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Galan rushed for eight yards before seldom-used sophomore Vincent Brown scored his first varsity touchdown from six yards out. The two-point conversion failed but that was just the beginning.
Senior Semaj Lewis would recover the ensuing onside kick from junior Ari Claro and the Pioneers were 41 yards away from another touchdown. But after seven plays, the drive stalled at the 19-yard line and Artesia had to settle for a 36-yard field goal from Claro, making it 27-21 with 7:13 remaining in the game.
Bellflower finally got to work on offense but was forced to punt after three plays went for two yards. Artesia got the ball at its own 34-yard line and Rodriguez busted loose for a 57-yard gain, followed by an eight-yard run from Galan. On the next play, Rodriguez put his team in front for good with 3:28 left.
“There’s not a whole lot you can say about [Cristian],” Veach said. “He’s so talented, he’s so good and he’s such a smart football player. He’s unbelievable.”
With plenty of time to drive down the field for a potential game-winning score, the Buccaneers went to its star running back Ryan Hunley, who had a pair of gains totaling 22 yards. But on the second of those two carries, he fumbled after being hit by junior defensive back Jose Soto. The ball was recovered by sophomore defensive back Jaydan Logan but Hunley remained down on the turf for an extended amount of time after junior safety Tytus Simmons hit Hunley’s helmet with his knee. Eventually, Hunley had to be removed from the field in an ambulance. Rodriguez would ice the game with his second touchdown with 32 seconds left. In all, the Pioneers forced three fumbles, this coming a week after Bellflower recovered three second half fumbles at Norwalk.
“We went into this year saying we wanted to cut back on the big plays,” Veach said. “We took someone out of the box and went to a 4-3. We tried to keep an extra safety in there. It got better every week. That three and out was huge.”
Hunley helped give the Buccaneers a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter as he touched the ball on the nine of the first 10 plays of the game, picking up 52 yards. That led to a one-yard bootleg score from Swain Williams. Artesia countered that with a three-yard touchdown pass from Galan to junior wide receiver Troy Daniels. But the extra point was blocked by Royce Moananu, who would have two of them in the first half.
Soto recovered a fumble late in the first quarter and the Pioneers turned that into a two-yard touchdown run from Galan with 8:38 left in the half. Galan had 114 yards on the ground before halftime and was also nine of 17 for 68 yards. Galan is the second-leading passer in the league with 996 yards 13 touchdowns and the fifth-leading rusher with 682 yards and five touchdowns.
“It seemed like every time we went out there [on offense], he made the right decision,” Veach said. “He’s been a starter for three years, so that helps. After seeing him go from a sophomore who basically wanted to stand back, throw the football and not ever take off and run to now, this year…he keeps us in every game. His decision making has gotten better since his sophomore year.”
Hunley put his team in the lead again with a 34-yard score less than two minutes after Galan’s touchdown. Then Hunley accounted for all 50 yards on seven carries to increase Bellflower’s lead to 20-12 with 5:43 left in the third quarter. Hunley, who was a workhorse against Norwalk with 264 yards on 44 carries, had 244 yards on 28 carries against Artesia and is second in the league with 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“We told them No. 21 is the best running back you’ll see all year and [Bellflower] knows he’s the best running back,” Veach said. “They’re going to give him the ball as much as they can.”
After a 17-yard touchdown from Johnathan Turner made it 27-12, the Bucs were looking for more but junior lineman Lene Lauti recovered an onside kick, which led to Artesia comeback over the last 13 minutes of the game. In fact, Bellflower would run only eight more plays the remainder of the game.
“Lene recovering that onside kick was huge,” Veach said. “We did something that they did last week against Norwalk and it’s a tough thing to guard against because it’s the way they start shifting around. You don’t know if they’re going to kick it to the short side or the long side. We prepared for it. They got us with it earlier in the game but then at halftime we went over everything again.”
Artesia will have tonight off as the result of a forfeit victory against Cerritos, which now gives the Pioneers a 3-6 mark overall and 2-3 in the circuit. Veach and others will scout the John Glenn-Norwalk game tonight as the Pioneers will host Glenn on Nov. 2. The Pioneers are still alive for a playoff spot as the season could end with three teams finishing tied for third place with 3-3 league records. If that should happen, a coin flip would be needed to determine who goes into the playoffs as the automatic third place representative. Last three meetings between Artesia and Glenn have been decided by no more than six points with the Eagles winning the last two. Since 1998, Artesia has a 5-2 home record against Glenn, the best home mark against any league team in the past 14 seasons.
“We’ll get ready for Glenn,” Veach said. “I told the kids after the game we have two weeks to prepare for Glenn and this is a team that record-wise is similar to us. They have a great player over there in [senior running back] Steven Reed and you have to prepare for him. We don’t want to end the season with a loss.”
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