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WEEK TWO FOOTBALL Gahr holds on for narrow victory, extends winning streak to 10 games over city rival

By Loren Kopff

While Gahr may have defeated cross-town rival Cerritos last Friday night at Hanford Rants Stadium for the 10th consecutive year, the 2014 version was actually a game, especially in the fourth quarter. In fact, you wouldn’t have known who won the 24-20 decision based on how both coaches felt afterwards.
Gahr built an 18-0 halftime lead, then scored very early in the fourth quarter before the Dons rallied for 20 unanswered points in less than 11 minutes. The 20 points matches the entire total Cerritos had scored against the Gladiators in the previous nine meetings and the 20 points are the most Cerritos has scored against Gahr since posting a 35-14 victory on Oct. 3, 2003.
“They’re better,” said Gahr head coach Greg Marshall. “You have to give those guys credit. I told [our] guys if you guys don’t play well, don’t play a sharp game, it’s going to be a game.”
In fact, Cerritos head coach Darin Owens went as far as saying his team’s performance was not a baby step towards turning around the program, but instead was a big step and a big statement.
“This was a great game; our kids played very well,” Owens said. “We’re still coming together as a team. We’re still trying to find our right kids in the right positions. Tonight proved that we don’t give up and it also proves that we’re a quality football team and that’s what we wanted to see. We improved from last week and that’s what we wanted to do.”
On the second play of the game, Cerritos defensive back Kory Boyd recovered a fumble at the five-yard line, denying Gahr of an early score. But the Dons were unsuccessful on a fake punt attempt and gave the ball right back at the 10-yard line where Gahr senior quarterback Malik Smith ran it in for a 6-0 lead.
More miscues would plague Cerritos as a fumble on the Gahr 40-yard line was scooped up by senior safety Leotis Johnson, who took it back 60 yards for a touchdown and a 12-0 lead. Then in the second quarter, Gahr turned the tables on Cerritos when it held the ball for 5:40 and capped off a13-play drive when Smith connected with junior wide receiver Justin Garrett for a 13-yard touchdown. Again, the two-point conversion was failed for the second straight time after the extra point attempt on the first touchdown was blocked.
The Dons (0-2) had a chance to put something together right before halftime but Gahr junior cornerback De’jah Pickett intercepted senior quarterback Ki’Jon Washington at the 13-yard line with 10 seconds left in the half. It was Washington’s first attempt of the season. Despite holding the ball for 15 minutes in the first half, the Dons were limited to 79 yards, all on the ground, while Smith was seven of 10 for 101 yards.
“That’s just Malik,” Marshall said. “He’s very efficient and he plays really well.”
Cerritos controlled the first seven and a half minutes of the third quarter but came away empty when Washington gained five yards on fourth and 11. The drive would have ended really quickly had it not been for a Gahr personal foul infraction on fourth and 10 on the fourth play of the stanza. Gahr would be penalized 14 times for 115 yards and the dirty laundry on the field all night almost cost the Gladiators the game.
“The deal was we had them three and out and we had to stay out there defensively, even though we ended up stopping them” Marshall said. “So now it’s a fatigue thing and it caught up to us. We don’t have that many guys anyway. That’s just stupid and those were by veteran guys, making poor, bad plays. They’re just bad.”
Gahr (2-1) took over at its own 22-yard line and engineered a 13-play drive that ended 23 seconds into the fourth quarter when Smith found Pickett in the far right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard score. But after a short kickoff, Boyd put the Dons on the board with a 51-yard touchdown run just 10 seconds later.
A defining moment in the game came with 6:20 remaining when Cerritos senior defensive back Manny Ruiz blocked a punt by senior Mark Dominguez around the 35-yard line with the football travelling back another 10 yards. Two plays later, Washington cashed in from eight yards and after senior River DeLaPena converted on the two-point conversion, the Dons had closed the margin at 24-14.
“That was a huge motivational change and momentum change right there for us big time,” Owens said.
Gahr was forced to punt again and following an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Gladiators, the Dons went 40 yards on eight plays which ended with a Washington two-yard run with 55 seconds remaining.
Smith finished the game completing 13 of 19 passes for 162 yards but was hit hard early in the fourth quarter. Gahr also lost senior center and inside linebacker Troy Orozco on the fourth play of the game when he injured his right ankle and was carted off of the field.
“We’re a young team,” Marshall said. “The good thing is we’re winning. We have a lot of new faces out there winning football games. I told them I was proud of them. How many teams lose their quarterback, lose their center and their linebacker and win the football game?”
Johnson rushed for 44 yards on nine carries while Garrett hauled in six passes for 81 yards. Defensively, junior defensive end Julian Dawson had five and a half tackles while sophomore inside linebacker Latrell Stearns added five tackles.
For Cerritos, which had the ball four and a half minutes less in the second half than in the first half, Washington rushed for 98 yards on 27 carries and has 239 yards on 53 touches in two games.
“He can do a lot of different things, and he’s very mobile,” Owens said. “He did a good job tonight and he’s also playing very good defense, too.”
“It’s not what he did, it’s what we did,” Marshall said. “We told them, ‘don’t let him out’ and our guys kept coming under to block and he’s too fast that he gets outside. We knew that he was fast and we knew that he is their best player.”
Boyd added 66 yards on seven carries and junior Isaiah Harris pitched in with 27 yards on four carries. On defense, senior linebacker Christian Veazie led the way with seven tackles, one more than senior defensive back Ron Reddy. Cerritos hosted Pioneer on Sept. 18 for its last game of the month while Gahr hosts Artesia tonight, hoping to reclaim the Silver Milk Barrel that the Pioneers won last season.
“For us, every week is a different deal,” Marshall said. “We can come out and light the scoreboard up. Who knows? I don’t know what I’ll get from these guys. I have almost zero expectations for these guys. I don’t know what next week is going to look like. I wish I did.”