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WEEK EIGHT FOOTBALL Sluggish first quarter ends in easy win for Artesia, still alive for postseason berth

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

The first quarter for Artesia High against host Cerritos High last Thursday night wasn’t what the Pioneers were expecting, considering the team is in sights of its first extra game since 2008. Artesia had the ball for less than three and a half minutes and were trailing the Dons by a touchdown.

But the Pioneers buckled down and scored on four straight possessions to run away with a 42-13 win, improving their overall record to 6-3 and 3-2 in the Suburban League. It’s Artesia’s best record thus far since 2013 when it went 6-4 overall and 3-3 in league action.

“I knew we could score,” said Artesia head coach Joe Veach. “We had a couple of down weeks, so I knew that there were going to be points scored tonight. I wasn’t nervous; I was unhappy with our defense. I thought we came out and had some chances in the first couple of series to get off the field and we let them convert some third downs.”

Cerritos got on the board first when senior running back Kaliq Hatcher scored on a four-yard run almost four minutes in. The Pioneers answered back and took a 7-6 lead on senior running back Jordan Benoit’s 19-yard run. But the Dons regained the lead with 19 seconds remaining in the stanza on a 25-yard scoring connection from junior quarterback Colby Nielsen to senior wide receiver Ignacio Cobian.

After that, it would be all Pioneers, with Benoit being a huge part of the offensive turnaround. He would put Artesia in front for good with a 35-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Then with 32 seconds remaining in the half, he added a one-yard run as the Pioneers led 28-13 at the break. Benoit would rack up 122 yards on the ground on 14 carries.

Meanwhile, Artesia’s defense also got into the action. With 7:21 left in the half and the Dons driving, senior wide receiver Andres Covarrubias intercepted a Nielsen pass at the two-yard line and returned the ball to the Cerritos 40-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Heder Gladden found senior wide receiver Armando Pacheco for a 13-yard score to make it 21-13.

Artesia would begin the second half on a six-play drive capped off by an eight-yard run around the left side on a counter play from sophomore running back Travys Davis. With the score 35-13, the highlight of the night came two plays into the fourth quarter when 255-pound senior lineman James Jackson recovered a fumble and jaunted down the far sideline for a 94-yard return to conclude the game’s scoring.

“That was funny,” Veach said. “We were joking on the sidelines that we watch him during conditioning and we always get on him because we don’t think he’s running very hard. This is the fastest he’s going to run; there’s no incentive to run.

“We got a couple of timely turnovers and I just thought tonight we played more physical on defense than we’ve played the last few weeks,” Veach later added.

Gladden would complete six of nine passes for 92 yards and picked up another 23 yards on six carries. Davis added 40 rushing yards on five touches and on defense, Covarrubias and junior linebacker Xavier Yoakum each had eight tackles.

For Cerritos, which dropped to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in league action, Nielsen was 14 of 30 for 181 yards. Senior wide receiver Damare Franklin (35 yards) and junior running back Ryder Eddy (74) each caught four passes while Hatcher led the ground assault with 90 yards on 23 carries.

“Offensively, they’re completely different than what they’ve been the last two years,” Veach said of Cerritos. “They have a kid back there that’s going to try to throw the ball and he’s pretty good. He does a good job of finding guys that are open. I thought we did a really good job of containing their run. That was what I was worried about.”

While the Dons visit Bellflower High tonight at Ron Yary Stadium, the Pioneers will conclude their regular season tonight at home against Norwalk High. Both teams are fighting for third place and a better chance of getting into the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs. The Lancers enter tonight’s contest at 5-3 overall, 2-2 in the circuit. Artesia has lost seven straight to Norwalk and was blanked 48-0 in last season’s meeting.

“They have a couple of kids over there who run physically,” Veach said. “They run hard and that’s what I just told the kids just now. We can’t come out and play physical against Cerritos and then not play physical against Norwalk. We’re going to have to fill holes and we’re going to have to tackle and wrap up because those guys are big and strong and they’re good athletes. So it’s going to be a big test for us.”