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High School Football: Gahr rallies with three touchdowns in span of four-plus minutes, wears down Valley Christian

By Loren Kopff

Gahr High football head coach Greg Marshall thought the outcome of his team’s game with visiting Valley Christian High would go the opposite way of last season’s opener. In that game, the Gladiators crushed the host Crusaders 41-14. But the only thing that was the same in last Friday night’s tilt at Hanford Rants Stadium was a Gahr victory.

Trailing 21-3 almost five minutes into the second half, Gahr scored three touchdowns in a span of 4:19 from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth quarter, two of them off turnovers, and the Gladiators came back for a 24-21 victory. The game wasn’t sealed until senior Chris Dupuy missed a 22-yard field goal as time expired.

“[Valley Christian] was kind of rolling there,” Marshall said. “I thought our guys showed a lot of heart by kind of stopping the momentum a little bit.”

“We thought we had the game under control,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “We knew we were starting to fatigue. I think the biggest issue was that first drive they went down the field to score [their first touchdown]. We couldn’t get them off the field on crucial third and fourth downs.

“So, not being able to get them off the field, get the ball back and put the game in ice…one more touchdown would have done that, they found a way to extend the drive,” he continued.

With the Crusaders up 21-3, Gahr engineered its longest drive of the game, both in yardage and in time, to make its comeback. Starting at their own 20-yard line with 7:14 remaining in the third quarter, the Gladiators converted on four third downs and two fourth downs to score their first touchdown, ending a drive that lasted 5:25. The 14-play drive ended with junior running back Micah Bernard scoring on a 17-yard run on third and 13. Earlier in the drive, he had caught a 19-yard pass from senior quarterback E.J. Gonzalez on third and 10 and a 25-yard pass down the far sideline on fourth and 12.

V.C. was then unable to handle the ensuing onside kick and the Gladiators parlayed that miscue into a 44-yard touchdown pass from Gonzales to junior wide receiver Jeremy Matthews on the first play of the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Gahr senior linebacker Calvin Jones caused a fumble, which was recovered by senior linebacker Marquise Alexander and 90 seconds later, the Gladiators took the lead when senior running back Ugonna Olumba went in from four yards out.

“We didn’t tell them anything other than we had to be more physical,” Marshall said. “I thought they were a much more physical football team than we were earlier. But until we got more physical and upped the intensity…I think we did [in the second half]. It was just trying to pick up the intensity level.”

“It all started with the offensive line,” Bernard said. “They blocked for us. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, seeing how they came out and scored on us. But we fought it and fighting is what we do.”

Gahr’s defense would set the tone early in the game with two straight three and outs. In between, it began the scoring when senior Renso Sandoval booted a 27-yard field goal. V.C.’s defense would also get into the action when senior defensive back Garret Williams picked off Gonzalez late in the opening quarter. It wouldn’t lead to any scoring but the Crusaders would the end zone with 5:30 remaining in the half when Williams caught a two-yard pass from Joseph.

“That’s what we were kind of expecting, but then they figured something out with the pass and the screen,” Marshall said of his team’s defense early on. “When they run over us, that’s a problem.”

When the Crusaders, who remained the top team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section’s Division 8 poll, got the ball back, they went up 14-3 when Joseph launched a 40-yard scoring pass to senior wide receiver Jaylon Tucker. Then on its first possession of the second half, V.C. increased its lead when Joseph found senior wide receiver Quory Smith, who turned a bubble screen into a 79-yard score and a 21-3 advantage.

“Some of that is built into our athleticism,” Grayson said. “Q’s touchdown, in all honesty, should have been a five-yard gain, and [we] continue to run plays and run the clock. But he pops the thing for 79 yards. So, what are you going to do? But those are the things we kind of knew were built in. We know we’re explosive, we know that we can wear down early in the year in games. But we’ve been here before. Every year in my tenure here it’s the been the same way. The first three or four games, guys were cramping and by game five on, their bodies adjust and we’re fine.”

The Crusaders had two chances in the latter half of the fourth quarter to either tie or take the lead. But Matthews had his second interception with 5:34 left in the game and after moving from the their own 37-yard line to the five-yard line in 3:10, Dupuy missed a tying field goal.

“We wanted it more,” Bernard said. “That’s all I got to say. Look, they got a championship last year, we had a chance for one, we beat them before and we had to show them that it wasn’t a fluke. We beat them [again].”

Gonzalez, in his varsity debut, completed 12 of 28 passes for 184 yards while Bernard led all rushers with 89 yards on 13 carries and caught seven passes for 86 yards.

“And he was cramping most of the night,” Marshall said. “Offensively, our offensive line kind of sputtered early because we had so many new guys and we knew it was going to be that way.”

“I don’t want to take anything away from the young man but I don’t want to take anything away from our guys either,” Grayson said. “He did a lot of that against tired guys and backup guys. If you look on the sidelines, we had probably our entire starting secondary on the sidelines with cramps.”

“We have a lot of good players out here and I’m just thankful to be with them and just play with them,” Bernard said. “We knew we could do it. We just had to wait for gameday.”

Meanwhile, V.C.’s leading rusher of last season, senior running back Gianni Hurd, was limited to 49 yards on 13 touches while Joseph completed 14 passes in 22 attempts for 237 yards. Williams caught five of those for 65 yards.

“He was our focus; we wanted to square him up,” Marshall said of Hurd. “But then [Joseph] got us in the secondary a little bit. For the most part, I thought we did a pretty good job.”

Since 2002 these two schools, separated by a half a mile, have faced each other six times with Gahr winning on the field each occasion. However, a 34-10 victory in 2005 was later forfeited. Gahr, the third ranked team in Division 10, will visit Millikan High tonight while V.C. is home to Bellflower High.

“It means a little but what it means most for us is it showed that we have some heart; that we were really tested,” Marshall said. “I didn’t know what this team would have. They’re a good football team and I told them, ‘look, they’re Division 8, we’re Division 10 and it’s going to mean a lot in the long run’.”


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