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By Loren Kopff
If any of the Artesia High student body wanted to partake in the homecoming dance activities a bit early inside the gymnasium, there was a good reason to do so. All of the scoring in Artesia’s game against Cerritos High last Friday night at Atkins Stadium came in the first half.
To go one step further, both teams combined for 69 yards rushing in the second half, five punts and three fumbles as the Pioneers came away with a 20-6 victory. With both teams seeing that window of playoff opportunity closing very quickly, Artesia stayed alive as it improved to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the Suburban League.
However, Artesia head coach Joe Veach was feeling somewhat nervous following the first play of the second half when junior running back Jordan Benoit, the main source of the team’s offense all season, left the game with an injury to his calf after busting loose for a 50-yard run that was called back because of a holding penalty. Still, Benoit provided all of the offense the team needed in the first half.
“Jordan has been a key guy for us all season,” Veach said. “So him going down there in the beginning of the second half definitely didn’t help us on offense. And then [Cerritos] just loaded the box. They had more guys than we could block and it makes it tough to run the ball when they do that.”
On Artesia’s first play of the game, Benoit scored from 30 yards out just 52 seconds into the contest. After the Dons punted for the second time in the opening quarter, Benoit picked up three more rushes for 43, seven and five yards, the latter going for a touchdown nearly halfway through the opening stanza. Then facing third and three from the Artesia 13-yard line, Benoit went up, then down the right sideline for an 87-yard score as time expired in the first half. He left the game with exactly 200 yards on 11 carries. He has now scored 12 rushing touchdowns and one more on a fumble return. The rest of the team has combined for four touchdowns.
“We just had to try to disrupt them in the backfield,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Jason Anderson. “When he gets ahead full steam, you see what happens. The last play of the first half, they did a great job. When he gets ahead full steam, he’s gone. And the first play out of the [second] half, he’s gone. Our game plan was to try to squeeze his world down and disrupt him up front so he didn’t get ahead full steam. Dynamite comes in small packages sometimes and he’s dynamic.”
Meanwhile, the Dons (0-6, 0-3), who have been searching for touchdowns all season long, were doing their best to establish its running game, something they didn’t do a week earlier against Norwalk High. Following Benoit’s second score of the game, Cerritos ran out the rest of the first quarter with 10 rushes totaling 49 yards. The Dons would add 30 more yards on eight plays to begin the second quarter but the drive stalled when senior quarterback Anthony Beltran was halted at the one-yard line.
Cerritos got new life when senior lineman Chris Son recovered a fumble at the Artesia 35-yard line with 4:12 left in the first half. Eight plays later, senior running back Isaiah Harris put the Dons on the board with a seven-yard run. It was only the team’s seventh touchdown this season and the first in the first half. After being held to under 40 yards on the ground against Norwalk on Oct. 9, the Dons racked up with 147 yards on 27 rushes in the first half alone.
“I didn’t know they were winless,” Veach said. “It’s Cerritos, it’s a district school, and it’s a rival. Our kids know their kids and vice versa. So, that’s what we were getting on them all week. It’s a big game for us. What concerned me about Cerritos is just that they do a good job running the ball and that offense, for many years, has been tough for us to stop.”
With Benoit out of action in the second half, as well as Cerritos senior running back Manolo Cevallos, who reaggravated a high ankle sprain he sustained against Pioneer High on Sept. 18, both teams struggled to move the ball effectively over the final 24 minutes. Artesia punted twice and Cerritos once in the third quarter and both failed to get past its opponent’s 40-yard line until late in the game. Still, Artesia freshman Travys Davis was able to pick up 28 yards on 12 carries in Benoit’s absence while senior quarterback Todd Fahey completed all four of his fourth quarter passes for 45 yards.
“Our defensive coordinator came up with a great scheme this week, looking at them and analyzing and breaking them down,” Anderson said. “And we felt we had a scheme in place. We had to make a few tweaks at half to take away those seams that they were creating. I’m not going to lie, [Benoit] not finishing the game definitely does factor into that. But our kids played with their hair on fire; they played lights out and I can’t tell you how excited I am for what they did.”
The Pioneers will face Norwalk High tonight at Excelsior Stadium, hoping to end a six-game losing streak to the Lancers. At 2-2 in league play with two games remaining, the Pioneers would need to win both games to grab third place and the final automatic postseason berth from the Suburban League. Currently, Artesia is in third place, two games behind La Mirada High and Mayfair High. Norwalk is in a fourth place tie with Bellflower High at 1-2 in league.
“We got to watch [Norwalk] a little bit and they’re doing some different things than they’ve done in the past,” Veach said. “They have some good athletes over there and they run the ball well.”
As for Cerritos, which was led by Harris (63 yards on 15 carries) and sophomore running back Ryder Eddy (41 yards on 10 carries), it will be home to Bellflower tonight and needs to get going in the first half to have any chance of ending its losing streak.
“We’ve been slow starters, and that’s just with youth and inexperience a lot of times,” Anderson said. “We seem to dig ourselves in those holes and we need to come out and carry this momentum defensively into the start of next game. And offensively, we need to get up and running right away.”
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