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WEEK ONE FOOTBALL
By Loren Kopff
While Valley Christian head coach Woodie Grayson was somewhat concerned about how his defense would deal with the double wing offense that Cerritos brings to the table every week, it was his offense that set the tone early and on all 32 plays it would need. The Crusaders scored on all seven of their possessions and held the ball for less than nine minutes entering the fourth quarter in a 48-6 win last Friday night at Hanford Rants Stadium on the Gahr High School campus.
V.C. (2-0) ran 15 plays in the first half on four possessions, none of which lasted for more than 2:50. After forcing Cerritos to punt on its opening drive of the game, senior Robert Downs scored on V.C.’s first play from scrimmage when he caught an 18-yard pass from senior quarterback Jesse Smith. The play was set up when Downs returned the Cerritos punt 39 yards.
When the Crusaders got the ball back, they engineered an eight-play, 75-yard drive that took 2:50 with senior running back Quaid Kawana scoring from three yards out. The visitors ended the opening quarter with a Kawana five-yard run following an 80-second drive.
After the Crusaders recovered a fumble at their own 32-yard line late in the second quarter and an offside penalty, Downs needed one play to add to the lead as he scored on a 63-yard run. It would be the only play V.C. had in the second quarter and it lasted 11 seconds. By halftime, Smith was five of six for 100 yards while the team gained 100 yards on nine carries.
“The biggest thing for us all year is going to be finding a way to be balanced and keep teams from loading up the box,” Grayson said. “We have a lot of weapons at the skilled positions and right now we’re doing a pretty good job of spreading the ball around. So we’re a little difficult to defend right now. I think we put that forth tonight with a lot of guys touching the ball and no real one guy being somebody that you can key in on.”
Meanwhile, the best chance Cerritos had of getting on the board in the opening half came in the second quarter. Starting at their own 23-yard line, the Dons rode the legs of junior running back Kaliq Hatcher (35 yard, six carries) and sophomore running back Ryder Eddy (18 yards, three carries). But the only turnover of the game ended that scoring chance.
“I was very pleased with what we were getting executed,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Jason Anderson. “I was not pleased with the mental mistakes. We just shot ourselves, bottom line. We were our own worst enemy and kept knocking ourselves back when we should have been up ahead. It gives us plenty of things to work on going into next week.
“If we want to be a good team this year, those are the things we can’t do,” Anderson later added. “We’ve made those mistakes in the past continually and it’s just a backbreaker. We can’t do that.”
A 51-yard connection from Smith to junior wide receiver R.J. Van Kampen on the second play of the second half helped set up Smith’s 10-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Trent Berkenkamp less than two minutes in. Then the Dons (0-1) put together another long drive and came away with their lone score. Hatcher, Eddy and senior running back Kameron Skiba combined for 72 yards on 12 carries with Eddy cashing in from three yards out with 2:15 left in the third quarter. Hatcher led everyone with 107 yards on 24 carries while Eddy a surprise addition to the game, added 98 yards on 14 touches. He was filling in for senior running back Manolo Cevallos who touched the ball twice in the first half.
“Manolo’s been at that spot and Manolo got banged up early in our summer camp and high ankle sprains are a tough one,” Anderson said. “We’re working on trying to keep him healthy and obviously in the first drive, it flared up on him. We don’t want to lose that kid for the season. We needed other backs to step up and find a third option in the backfield at the wing spot and Ryder was a pleasant surprise. We were looking for someone to elevate and…Ryder answered the call. He’s just a hard-nosed kid.”
“That offense is very tough to get a gauge on,” Grayson said. “Fortunately for us we were able to get out of the gate quickly and put some points on the board before they started to find a rhythm. But give them credit; their offense started to do what it’s designed to do. But offensively, we were just very crisp tonight.”
The Crusaders ran out the rest of the third quarter with a quick five-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard scoring run from junior running back Dominic Paul. Then on its only possession of the fourth quarter, which was played under running clock condition, Paul closed out the game’s scoring with a three-yard run nearly midway through the stanza. While the Crusaders gained 166 yards on 19 carries, Smith was nearly perfect through the air, completing 10 of 13 passes for 195 yards. In the first game of the season at Laguna Beach, Smith was eight of 12 for 190 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s a talented kid,” Grayson said. “He’s been patient, he’s waited his turn and from spring ball on, he’s really seized the opportunity to take over the position. He’s leading the team, most importantly, off the field. But his performance has just been exactly what we could hope for and everything that we need so that we could be balanced.”
The Crusaders will host Ocean View tonight in their home opener at Crusader Field while Cerritos will face Gahr tonight in the latest edition of the city rivalry, which has been dominated by the Gladiators over the past 10 seasons. Since Cerritos last defeated the Gladiators on Oct. 8, 2004, Gahr has outscored its city rivals 408-40.
“For us, [tonight] was the first opportunity to really get toe to toe with a big, physical team,” Anderson said. “That’s a big, physical squad over there at Valley Christian and they do an outstanding job. There’s going to be plenty of film to study to understand what we did wrong and what we need to fix. But as far as this loss goes, I’m going to make sure these guys don’t hang their heads. This was a valuable learning experience.”
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