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WEEK THREE FOOTBALL: Defense, special teams puts Artesia one step closer to claiming Silver Milk Barrel



Artesia High School (Lakewood, California) Logo

Artesia High School (Lakewood, California) Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




When it comes to reigning supreme in the ABC Unified School District, Gahr has had a stranglehold on Artesia and Cerritos for the past four years and six of the past seven years. But now it may be Artesia’s time to take back that prized trophy known as the Silver Milk Barrel.
Following Artesia’s 29-27 win over Gahr last Friday night at Atkins Stadium, head coach Joe Veach hoisted the Silver Milk Barrel above his head the same way Patrick Kane did with the Stanley Cup after the Chicago Blackhawks won the National Hockey League’s finals. But the job is halfway completed as the Pioneers need to defeat Cerritos on Oct. 4 to officially own it for at least one year.
For Artesia to beat Gahr, it had to slow down a Gladiator passing attack that put up 367 yards through the air in last season’s game. Gahr also rushed for nearly 200 yards in last season’s 59-25 victory. So, it goes without saying Veach’s biggest concern was Gahr’s athletes.
“They have great athletes; they always have great athletes,” Veach said. “And they do a good job of getting those guys the ball in space. Our biggest concern was our tackling. We knew they were going to get those guys the ball out there on the sidelines on their screens and stuff. Every year we play them, our biggest struggle has been tackling. We’re always there; we [just] can’t tackle them. We tackled better in this game than we had ever tackled since I’ve been at Artesia High School.”
With Gahr leading 21-16 entering the fourth quarter, the Pioneers got the big break they needed when senior linebacker Isaiah Benoit picked off a Kobee Lagarde pass and returned it 35 yards to the house on the second play of the fourth quarter. After forcing the Gladiators (2-2) to punt, the Pioneers stayed on the ground and orchestrated a 12-play, 67-yard drive that took 7:16 off the clock. The drive ended when junior running back Vincent Brown scored from four yards out with 2:49 left in the game.
It was second drive of over seven minutes in the game for Artesia (3-1). It had began the game on a 7:31 drive but had to put after reaching the Gahr 34-yard line.
“We came out and said we wanted to run the football,” Veach said. “So, that first drive we were able to drive the ball. We got the sack at the end and it took us out of field goal range. So that hurt. But what it did was it proved to us that we could run the football and be successful against them.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Gahr struck first when the freshman Lagarde launched a 79-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver William Latham. Gahr went up 14-0 with 4:12 left in the first half when junior defensive back Leotis Johnson III blocked a punt and senior linebacker Raymond Mosley returned the pigskin 31 yards for a score. But Brown ended any momentum the visitors thought they had when he cashed in from two yards out with 30.9 seconds left before halftime.
The second half began with Artesia getting a safety when Gahr junior punter Jose Fonseca was tackled in the end zone after a bad snap from center. But the hosts fumbled two plays later and Gahr capitalized when junior running back Taylor Williams made it 21-9 with a one-yard score. Artesia senior Tytus Simmons then returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards down the right sideline before cutting back to the middle of the field.
“They played a great game defensively against us,” Veach said. “We were able to run the ball a little bit but it was tough to move the ball consistently against them. We were on the sidelines saying we had to come up with big plays on offense and we had to come up with a special teams play and we had to come up with a defensive play. And we did.”
Lost in the mix was the play of junior quarterback Jimmy Rodriguez, who is filling in for junior Cristian Rodriguez, lost for the season with a broken leg. Jimmy Rodriguez went six of seven for 24 yards and picked up another 65 yards on 17 carries.
“When we lost Cristian, we were really sad about it,” Jimmy Rodriguez said. “But it really motivated us to do better and we did this for Cristian.
“It was a big win,” he added. “A lot of people stepped up. We had guys playing positions where they hadn’t before.”
“Jimmy is unbelievable,” Veach said. “For somebody who didn’t play quarterback ever in his life until last year, he’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met. He’s taken to the position unbelievably well.”
The game still wasn’t over until Simmons intercepted Lagarde’s potential game-tying two-point conversion at the two-yard line. That came after Lagarde threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Elijah Hicks with 1:09 left in the game. Brown added 45 yards on 15 carries and Simmons another 26 yards on six touches. Gahr was held to only 166 yards total offense as Lagarde was seven of 15 for 83 yards. Johnson led the ground game with only 41 yards on eight carries. In fact, Gahr had the ball for exactly five minutes in the first half and ran only eight plays before halftime. For the game, Gahr had the ball for 17:02.
Gahr, which earlier in the week was awarded a forfeit victory against Lakewood, will host La Habra in its final non league contest this season. The Highlanders, who fell to Mission Viejo last Friday are tied with Edison for the top spot in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southwest Division Top 10 poll. Artesia will visit Mayfair tonight in its Suburban League opener, hoping to avenge a one-point setback to the Monsoons last season on a missed extra point.




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