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Artesia survives a brief scare from Cerritos, captures Silver Milk Barrel

WEEK FIVE FOOTBALL

By Loren Kopff

Now it’s official: the Artesia High football team is the proud owner, at least for one year, of the Silver Milk Barrel. The Pioneers dominated the second half last Friday night against ABC Unified School District and Suburban League rival Cerritos and rallied for a 43-22 victory over the visiting Dons on homecoming night at Atkins Stadium.

It marks the first time since 2008 that the Pioneers have defeated both Cerritos and Gahr in the same season and only the fourth time this century. But before the game, Artesia head coach Joe Veach has plenty of reasons to be concerned about how his team would fare against the vastly improved Dons. After the game, Veach displayed his frustrations.

“We didn’t do a great job tonight,” Veach said. “Cerritos came out firing and they came out and played physical and they ran downhill. We did not do a good job tackling. We didn’t do a good job of reading our keys. There were a lot of things that we didn’t do well, especially in the first half.”

Down by two points late in the third quarter, Artesia converted on the first of two straight fumble recoveries when senior wide receiver Tytus Simmons hauled in a 74-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jimmy Rodriguez. After those two hooked up again for the two-point conversion, the Pioneers led 28-22 with 53.7 seconds left in the third quarter. Then three minutes into the fourth quarter, Rodriguez connected with senior wide receiver Isaiah Benoit for a 66-yard score and the hosts began to pull away at 36-22.

Artesia recovered its own onside kick to begin the game and took a 7-0 lead after junior running back Vincent Brown scored from a yard out. But the Dons took nearly seven minutes off the clock to score its first touchdown when junior running back Kory Boyd took an inside reverse from senior running back LaMarr Crowder and raced 16 yards for the first of his two touchdowns of the night.

Rodriguez would put Artesia up 14-6 late in the opening quarter on a 24-yard scamper up the middle but the Dons, who have run up and down the field all season with their double wing, ball-controlling offense, tied the game nearly midway through the second quarter. Junior quarterback Ki’Jon Washington ended a 12-play drive by pushing forward from two yards out, then handing the ball to Crowder who scored the two-point conversion.

The Pioneers (4-2 overall, 1-1 in the Suburban League) responded when Brown hit pay dirt with a 34-yard touchdown run just 30 seconds after another 34-yard run was called back because of a holding penalty. Cerritos head coach Darin Owens was feeling good about his team heading into the locker room as the Dons had rushed for 214 yards and controlled the clock for nearly 16 minutes. Crowder had 100 yards on 15 carries in the first half.

“They played with good intensity throughout the four quarters,” Owens said. “I think right now we’re learning that when we make mistakes, you can’t hang their heads. You have to keep pressing through. We’re learning that and we’re improving each week. I feel like we’re getting better and better.”

Cerritos took its first and only lead of the game when it recovered its own onside kick to start the second half and marched 46 yards in 6:34, capped by an eight-yard run from Boyd. That touchdown gave Cerritos its 17th first down of the contest and a perfect nine for nine on third down conversions. The Dons would convert two more third down conversions the rest of the way as Artesia capitalized on the two fumbles.

Rodriguez led Artesia’s running attack with 98 yards on seven carries while Brown added 81 yards on eight carries and also scored from a yard out with 3:25 left in the game. The Pioneers racked up 425 yards of total offense but ran 31 plays and held the ball for 13:41. Artesia will see another team that operates the double wing offense as it visits Norwalk tonight.

“Vincent played great,” Veach said. “Physically, he’s just an animal. He’s a big, strong kid, he’s fast and he’s hard to bring down. When he gets going forward, he’s just a tough kid to stop.”

Crowder, the league’s leading rusher, picked up 149 yards on 27 carries, the third time he has rushed for at least that amount. He now has 773 yards through five games with 10 touchdowns. Crowder, originally from San Diego, attended Artesia after the football season two years ago but never played football at Artesia.

“LaMarr is great; he’s a good kid,” Veach said. “He was here at Artesia just a couple of years ago. We know the kind of athlete that he is and I know the kind of person that he is. I’m glad that he’s getting to play varsity football this year.”

Washington rushed for 105 yards on 16 carries while Boyd added 77 yards on 14 touches. Sophomore running back Jacob Tucay contributed another 50 yards on nine carries as Cerritos (1-4, 0-2) will host Bellflower tonight.

“I’m pleased with the kids’ overall attitude and kind of the rebirth of the program,” Owens said. “I feel like we have definitely made that turn that [I] talked about at the beginning of the season. Now we have to build upon that turn.”

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