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Gahr puts away Artesia in fourth quarter, reclaims Silver Milk Jug


Gahr junior wide receiver Justin Garrett catches one of his two touchdown passes in front of Artesia sophomore cornerback Jordan Benoit in last Friday night’s 35-17 victory. Garrett hauled in seven passes for 109 yards. PHOTO BY TOM MEYERS



By Loren Kopff

After seeing the coveted Silver Milk Jug reside at Artesia High School for a day short of exactly one year, Gahr gladly took it back to once again call itself the kings of the ABC Unified School District. Backed by three fourth quarter touchdowns, the Gladiators rallied for a 35-17 victory last Friday night at Hanford Rants Stadium.

Gahr has now swept Artesia and Cerritos in the same season for the fifth time in the last six seasons and seventh time since 2006.

“It’s good to have a good rivalry,” said Gahr head coach Greg Marshall. “But sometimes, losing motivates you. So we were definitely motivated tonight and the kids came out to play. It was our goal.”

Gahr (3-1) scored twice in the first quarter and had a 14-7 lead until Artesia senior Ezekial Diaz booted a 27-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to trim Gahr’s lead. With 2:31 remaining in the third quarter, senior running back Vincent Brown scored from three yards out to put the Pioneers in front 17-14.

But unlike the previous week when Gahr saw city rival Cerritos score three touchdowns in the final quarter, the Gladiators decided to turn the tables on the Pioneers. Just 16 seconds into the stanza, senior quarterback Malik Smith threw a 38-yard score to junior wide receiver De’Jah Pickett to put the hosts in front to stay at 21-17.

Then Pickett broke up a potential touchdown on a reverse from Brown intended for senior wide receiver Jaydon Logan. Gahr would turn the missed opportunity into the clinching touchdown with 7:49 left in the game-an 11-yard pass from Smith to junior wide receiver Justin Garrett. After Gahr forced Artesia to punt, the hosts put the game away with 5:29 remaining when senior running back Leotis Johnson scored on a 23-yard run.

“That was a big play but we had chances to make other plays and we just didn’t do it,” said Artesia head coach Joe Veach of the reverse play. “We’re senior-heavy and our seniors have to make plays when they’re in front of them. I think at times we did that tonight but we just didn’t do it enough.”

“We knew we were going to win,” Johnson said. “De’Jah is a great receiver and as soon as he caught that [touchdown] pass, it was over.”

Artesia (2-2) took a 7-0 lead on the game’s second play when senior running back Christian Rodriguez bolted 44 yards after Brown had gained 15 yards. But the Gladiators countered with a 24-yard Smith to Garrett connection just two and a half minutes into the contest. After Artesia punted on its second possession, the Gladiators went 82 yards on 14 plays and took a 14-7 lead when Johnson caught a 23-yard score from Smith.

Smith completed 19 of 31 passes for 258 yards and against the district teams, he has thrown for 420 yards and six touchdowns. Garrett caught seven of those 19 passes for 109 yards while Pickett (86 yards) and Johnson (48 yards) each caught five passes.

“These kids stayed with it,” Marshall said. “All of the games [this season] have been up, back, comeback. They just keep playing. I thought Malik played better in the second half. He wasn’t playing too great early.”

“We’ve had trouble all year making plays when the ball is in the air,” Veach said. “And that’s what they did; they picked on us. They threw the ball, deep balls into the end zone and we’re there and we didn’t make plays on the ball in the air. We had that trouble against Magnolia, we had the same trouble against Pasadena and now it’s the same thing tonight.”

But Gahr’s offense wasn’t just Smith and his receivers. Sophomore Latrell Stearns picked up 85 yards on 14 carries while Johnson added another 55 yards on half a dozen touches. Most of the yards Stearns picked up came in the second half.

“We switched him to running back because Leo wasn’t feeling very good even though they were still on the field,” Marshall said of his sophomore. “But, he stepped up, so we figured we wanted to give him the ball. Latrell is a hard runner and he’s also a sophomore and he’s learning how to play this game.”

Defensively, Stearns led the Gladiators with six tackles while Johnson added five and a half tackles. Sophomore defensive back Eugene Mays pitched in with five tackles and had a key interception early in the third quarter. Gahr travelled to Fullerton on Sept. 25 and will not play again until it visits Warren on Oct. 10 in the San Gabriel Valley League opener.

“This was our season to change everything,” Johnson said. “We want to prove to everybody at our school, our families, this entire town…we want to make something. We don’t want to be known for last season. We’re going to get better and we’re going to go to the playoffs this year. We’re going to make a difference this season.

For the Pioneers, senior quarterback Jimmy Rodriguez had 17 carries for 73 yards and completed 10 of 19 passes for 118 yards. Christian Rodriguez rushed five times and picked up 65 yards and also caught four passes for 37 yards. Brown added another 42 yards on 10 carries.

“Jimmy’s gotten better since last year, ever since he started playing for us,” Veach said. “He’s done a great job.”

Junior outside linebacker Christian Payton paced the Artesia defense with eight and a half tackles while senior linebacker Devon King had another four tackles. Artesia will visit La Mirada tonight to open up Suburban League action. The Pioneers have lost six straight games to the Matadores.

“Our best players have to make plays when they’re in front of them,” Veach said. “The guys that we lean on, and they know who they are, have to make plays. If there’s a chance to make a first down, we have to make a first down. If there’s a chance to score, they have to score. If there are chances to make tackles or big plays on defense, they have to do that. That’s what has to happen.”