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WEEK NINE FOOTBALL: Artesia’s second half rally not enough to overcome early mistakes

By Loren Kopff

BELLFLOWER-Artesia’s football team had mostly been a first half squad throughout most of the 2014 season, having led or being tied at the break in five of its first eight games. In fact, the Pioneers had a lead going into the fourth quarter in another contest and could have easily had five or even six wins entering its tilt against Bellflower last Friday night.

But 16 points in the second half wasn’t enough to recover from a shaky first half and the Pioneers dropped a 30-16 decision to the Buccaneers at Ron Yary Stadium, thus ending Artesia head coach Joe Veach’s dreams of finishing the season with a .500 record. Bellflower returned an interception for a touchdown and a fumble that led to a field goal in the first half as it led 17-0 at the break.

“I thought we came out flat,” Veach said. “We didn’t play with any energy. We made mistakes across the board on offense and that’s what killed us. Defensively, I thought we played a good first half. We gave them 21 points; they only took 17. They should have scored 21 on us in the first half. Offensively, we just had nothing going.”

The Pioneers (3-6 overall, 1-4 in the Suburban League) had driven to the Bellflower 24-yard line on their opening possession of the game. But an ill-advised pass thrown from senior quarterback Jimmy Rodriguez found the hands of Devon Cooley, who went 80 yards the opposite direction for a touchdown.

Then two plays into the second quarter, a fumble at the Bellflower 44-yard line was scooped up by Jonathan Castillo, who returned it to the Artesia 19-yard line. Almost two and a half minutes later, Roman Delgado booted a 28-yard field goal to give the hosts a 10-0 lead.

“We just didn’t execute,” Veach said of the interception. “We called the play and we didn’t run the play. We didn’t have 11 guys running the play. When that happens, bad things happen. Looking back, obviously Jimmy should have tucked it in and taken a sack. But he was trying to make a play; we just didn’t execute.”

Following a three and out, the Buccaneers engineered a 10-play, 5:46 drive that ended when Austin Jones went in from a yard out. Artesia was held to 52 yards passing and 28 yards on the ground in the first half and ran 18 plays. But the tide would quickly shift in the first five minutes of the second half.

Two straight first downs eventually led to Rodriguez throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jaydon Logan on the first drive of the second half. Then senior Alejandro Guerrero recovered the ensuing onside kick and after driving to the Bellflower 28-yard line, senior Ezekial Diaz connected on a 44-yard field goal to bring the Pioneers back in the game.

“At halftime, we told them that we were going to keep playing and we were going to simplify what we were doing,” Veach said. “We were just going to play hard and see what kind of people we are in the second half. The second half has killed us all year and now I think you can officially say it’s not second halves. It’s just the fact that we don’t play 48 minutes.”

With the score now 23-10, senior defensive tackle Enoka Sautia picked off Demetrius Reed at the Artesia 45-yard line and returned it 10 yards. On the very next play, Logan caught a 36-yard pass from senior Cristian Rodriguez and four plays later, Jimmy Rodriguez scored from a yard out to bring Artesia to seven points again. But Wheeler ended any chance of a complete rally when he iced the game with a five-yard scoring run midway through the fourth quarter.

“The interception was a great play by Enoka,” Veach said. “It’s good to see plays like that from guys like that because he’s been in the program with us for awhile now. It’s something that we coach when we see screens-to stop, don’t chase the quarterback, get back, get depth and try to make a play. It’s something that he hasn’t always done. And so it’s great to see something like happen for a kid who gets it and is now doing what he’s coached to do.”

Artesia would try to answer by getting to the Bellflower 22-yard line but was thrown for a one-yard loss on fourth and two and Bellflower ran out the final 2:39 of the game. Jimmy Rodriguez was 20 of 29 for 180 yards and at one point, completed eight straight passes totaling 106 yards. Cristian Rodriguez caught 10 of those passes for 83 yards while Logan caught another seven passes for 89 yards. On defense, junior outside linebacker Christian Payton had 11 and a half tackles while Cristian Rodriguez added seven and a half tackles and senior linebacker Devon King another four and a half.

Artesia will end the season tonight at home against John Glenn. Not only will it be senior night, it is Artesia’s homecoming game and the school will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. The Pioneers have won nine of their past 11 meetings with the Eagles, who will be seeking their first league win on the field since 2011.

“I’m over this game,” Veach said. “We wanted to win; we beat Bellflower the last two years and I know they wanted to beat us. I told the kids we’re going to see what kind of people we are in this last week. We have one last game and how we’re going to send out our seniors, how are we going to finish our season, what are we going to go into the offseason thinking about and remembering? Are we going to remember that we showed up the last game and played great? Or are we going to remember that we turned it all in a little bit early and we laid an egg.

“Glenn is a team that’s battling for a league win which they haven’t had in awhile,” he continued. “They’re going to come out and fight and they’re going to play hard. We have to be ready for them. We don’t want anything to happen that doesn’t happen well for us.”