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WEEK SIX FOOTBALL Gahr’s defense bails out anemic offense as Gladiators rally in final minutes

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

Gahr High’s offense couldn’t get much established on the gridiron when it hosted Lynwood High in the San Gabriel Valley League opener for both teams. So, the defense took over in the waning minutes and with two crucial plays, the Gladiators remained undefeated in six games thus far.

A blocked punt from junior outside linebacker Renso Sandoval led to the game-winning touchdown, a 10-yard run from senior running back Latrell Stearns with 2:42 remaining in the game. But Gahr didn’t seal its 13-9 victory until senior cornerback Brandon Gibbs recovered a fumble near the Gladiator’s 30-yard line with 35 seconds left to preserve the victory. It was the type of victory that Gahr head coach Greg Marshall knew his team should not have had, but will gladly take. In addition to the offense picking up only 157 yards, Marshall saw his team rack up 119 yards on 18 penalties.

“That’s how we played last year, offensively,” Marshall said. “But we didn’t have enough defense to stop [the other team]. So, that was the difference. We played just like that last year and the defense couldn’t hold up the whole game. Somehow, the defense managed to hold up [tonight]. We actually played better later.”

The defense was good enough to hold an opponent to 10 points or fewer for the fourth time this season and out of the end zone for the first time. Through six games, Gahr’s defense has yielded 64 points. The only points the Knights would get came in the form of three Roberto Gerardo field goals.

Gahr was trailing 9-0 after Gerardo booted a 27-yard field goal with 9:47 left in the game. After both teams went three and out, the Gladiators got the ball at the Lynwood 45-yard line with 6:25 remaining and a pair of runs from Stearns totaling 24 yards led to a 16-yard scoring play from senior quarterback Robert Frutos to senior wide receiver Erik Spurlin Renfroe to put Gahr on the board.

Lynwood would get the ball at its own 25-yard line and was pushed back on three negative plays plus a delay of game penalty. Forced to punt at the 10yard line, Sandoval came up with the huge block that landed in the hands of senior cornerback Dior Denson at the 25-yard line. After a personal foul infraction on the Knights, Sterns would put his team in front for the first time.

“I wasn’t nervous because I knew the defense was doing their thing and the offense, if they ever got going, we would be fine,” Marshall said.

Both teams would have trouble converting on third and fourth downs in the first quarter, combining for just one conversion in nine attempts in the stanza. With 1:25 left in the quarter, Lynwood’s Charles Findley recovered a fumble at the Knights 29-yard line and the visitors parlayed that into a 26-yard field goal from Gerardo 3:20 into the second quarter. The longest of four Gahr drives in the first half would end in a punt and Lynwood would move the ball from its 25-yard line to the Gahr 23-yard line in 2:04 before Gerardo made it 6-0 with a 40-yard field goal.

Gahr’s offense was stymied in the first half, picking up just 36 yards on the ground and 33 yards through the air. Part of that could be attributed to the penalties the Gladiators were accumulating. It seemed like for every step Gahr would take, it would move two or three steps in the opposite direction.

“There was no rhythm to the offense; that’s what it looked like,” Marshall said. “You can’t have that many penalties and expect the offense to execute.

“You have to give [Lynwood] credit,” he continued. “We didn’t think they were going to blitz us like they did, and man us. So they were able to play the run and our pass.”

Gahr was set to kick off to the Knights to begin the second half but instead attempted an onside kick and when the Knights thought they had the ball, junior safety Erik Jones recovered a fumble. However, the drive stalled three and a half minutes later. The Knights would have a chance to go up 9-0 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter, but Gerardo was wide right on an attempt. He would redeem himself early in the fourth, though.

Stearns picked up 102 hard yards on 17 carries while Frutos completed eight of 21 passes for 55 yards with one interception. Although he struggled all night with his passing, Marshall said he had every intention of keeping Frutos in the game and keeping his backup, junior Chris Shakir-Ricks, in the backfield.

“The problem is, when we put Chris behind center, they’re going bunch the front more and our H’s were tired,” Marshall said. “If we put our running quarterback in there, then they’re really going to go. If our line was functioning better, maybe. But they weren’t blocking very well anyway.”

Defensively, the Gladiators held the Knights to 85 yards on the ground and another 42 through the air. Like Gahr, the Knights were also plagued with penalties, accumulating 75 yards on 12 infractions. Senior Isaiah Mays led Gahr’s defense with five tackles and a sack. Denson picked up four tackles while senior linebacker Theodore Ude added three tackles.

“We always say, in those good years, you win games you shouldn’t,” Marshall said. “And that was one. So obviously, I don’t think we can play that bad again offensively. That was a game we should have lost, and we won.”

Gahr moved from ninth to eighth in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 10 top 10 poll at the beginning of the week. The Gladiators, who are off to their best start on over 19 seasons, will travel to Warren High tonight. Gahr is assured of its first winning season since 2011 when it went 7-3 but to keep their undefeated season going, they have to beat a team on their turf for the second time in at least the past eight meetings. Warren comes into the contest with a 0-5-1 record, including a 26-13 loss to Paramount High last Friday in the league opener.