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WEEK ONE FOOTBALL: Cerritos special teams has no answers for Woodbridge’s Felix as Dons fall to Warriors

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August 30, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Give a defense a short field, and there’s bound to be some problems for the opposing offense and/or special teams. Cerritos found that out the hard way in the first quarter against Woodbridge High last Thursday night at Atkins Stadium on the Artesia High campus.

Already down 7-0 past the midway point of the opening quarter, the Dons began their second drive of the game at their own 18-yard line. A four-yard loss on a sack and a reception for negative two yards forced the hosts to punt. But a bad snap sent the ball through the endzone for a safety. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Zachary Felix went 60 yards to the house and for a 16-0 lead in a matter of 18 seconds.

While Cerritos would score the next 19 points of the game, Woodbridge rallied in the second half and left Southeast Los Angeles County with a 37-19 victory. The Dons dropped to 0-2 and have been outscored 43-7 in the second half.

“Offensively, we weren’t really able to get the run game going,” said Cerritos head coach Brad Carter. “And then our special teams all night was not good enough. We were blocking up front and giving up touchdowns on kickoffs and punt returns. That has to improve; we have to be better on special teams. We have to figure it out.”

Woodbridge would have five offensive plays in the first quarter and had the ball for a little over three minutes. Ironically, it was special teams that enabled Cerritos to get on the board as senior lineman Lucas Panem recovered a fumble after Cerritos punted for the second time in the opening quarter. Four plays later, senior wide receiver Luis Sanchez hauled in an 18-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Dylan Burton with 17.3 seconds remaining.

The momentum carried into the second quarter as Woodbridge quarterback Edward Ma was incomplete on consecutive plays from the Cerritos 29-yard line and the Dons took advantage, going 71 yards on nine plays, chewing 4:04 off the clock for their second score. Here, it would be sophomore running back Kalib Moran going in from eight yards out.

A three and out put the Cerritos offense in business at the Warriors 28-yard line and the black and gold would march 72 yards on 10 plays, aided by a Woodbridge personal foul on fourth and three. The drive ended with Moran catching an eight-yard score from Burton with 6.9 seconds remaining in the half.

“That was good to see,” said Carter. “I don’t like how slow we started; I always like how fast we finish the first half. We have to get off to a better start. I’m not sure why we’re getting out to a slow start, but that needs to improve quickly.”

Both teams traded fumble recoveries to begin the second half and with 7:16 left in the third quarter, the Warriors regained the lead when Ma connected with Felix for 33 yards. Any chance the Dons had in potentially getting the lead back was dashed when Felix busted loose for another 60-yard punt return with 9:15 left in the game. In the first half, Cerritos had 34 plays of offense, but could only get 21 in the second half, eight going for positive yardage.

“We kind of went to spread personnel, started screening more,” said Carter. “We had a big touchdown by Luis; that was a great catch. We just had the momentum. These last two games have been similar. We’ve been right there in the third quarter, then we lose momentum and we can’t get it back.”

In the season opener against Buena Park High on Aug. 19, the Dons trailed 12-7 after the first quarter, 26-14 at the half and 34-21 heading into the final stanza. Moran, who scored all three touchdowns against Buena Park, led the ground game with 47 yards on 14 carries while sophomore running backs Ruben Castro and Dikshanta Adhikari combined for another 32 yards on 10 carries. Moran also caught four passes for 24 yards.

“He’s a big, strong football player,” said Carter. “We rode him hard tonight and we’re going to be riding him all year, for sure.”

Burton missed four passes out of his 16 attempts and threw for 88 yards with three of those completions going for more than 10 yards. Half a dozen players caught at least a pass with junior wide receiver Jake Bautista getting a pair of them for 25 yards.

“We’re trying to slow the game down for him,” said Carter of his signal caller. “He’s controlling the game; we have to find a way to get him more easy passes. Give [Woodbridge] credit; they took away a lot of the passing stuff that we had planned.”

Defensively, the Dons were led by senior cornerback Sebastian Pasillas (four tackles) and sophomore linebacker Nathaniel Crawford (three and a half tackles). Cerritos will visit Portola High tonight in a battle of winless teams. The Bulldogs fell to Summit Academy 48-28 last Friday night and are led by quarterback Rocky Palacio, who has completed 36 of 75 for 476 yards, and three touchdowns with two interceptions along with 66 yards on 20 carries and wide receiver Kamran Jahromi (11 receptions, 218, three touchdowns). Lase season, Portola shutout Cerritos 35-0 and in 2019, the ‘Dogs got past the Dons 46-24.

“I told the kids our focus is on us right now,” said Carter. “We need to keep fighting; stay the course. We’re on the right track. We just have to finish games. If we just clean up a couple of things on special teams and find a way to get more explosive plays on offense, I think we’re going to be alright.”

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