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WEEK FOUR FOOTBALL : Gahr’s second half problems continue, lose in final seconds to St. Anthony

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


LONG BEACH-Gahr High head coach Greg Marshall said he wasn’t discouraged of his team’s 1-3 record because the problems can be fixed. Those problems, among others, stem more on the defensive side of the ball which have prevented the Gladiators of potentially having a 4-0 mark.

While Gahr’s offense has mustered one second half touchdown in each of the last three games, the defense has blown halftime leads in the last two contests, including a five-point advantage to St. Anthony High last Friday night at Clark Field. In fact, the Gladiators led 20-7 but was edged by the Saints, again, when Xavier Hernandez scored on a fourth and goal sneak with 6.3 seconds remaining to rally the hosts to a 31-28 win. Two seasons ago, on the same field, in a CIF-Southern Section Division 10 first round game, Gahr had a 21-7 lead before falling in the final seconds on a field goal following a crucial fumble inside the red zone.

“They’re all the same,” said a frustrated Marshall. “We’re still trying to find a defense. This is the second week of a new defensive personnel, so we had guys going both ways. That had a lot to do with the second half. The problem was we missed too many opportunities in the first half when we should have been up [more].”

Gahr found itself down 7-0 just over five minutes in when Blake Banks picked off senior quarterback Jordan Simpson and went 70 yards the other way. But on Gahr’s next play, Simpson redeemed himself when he found senior wide receiver Marcelous Hayes for an 80-yard score. The extra point was missed but the Gladiators were back in the game. That was especially true early in the second quarter when they stopped the Saints on downs following a 14-play drive that lasted over seven minutes. Gahr took advantage and went up 13-7 on a Simpson 70-yard scoring strike to senior running back/wide receiver Micah Bernard.

Despite a fumble on Gahr’s next possession, the lead expanded to 13 points on a 62-yard score from Simpson to junior wide receiver Aaron Okoro. Gahr’s defense continued to dominate the half as senior linebacker Evan Smith recovered a fumble four plays later and the visitors were looking for more points.

But with 2:38 left in the half, senior kicker Carlos Sandoval saw his 29-yard field goal attempt go right. St. Anthony took advantage and cut the lead to 20-15 on a 13-yard pass from Lucas Lehmar to Hernandez with 46.9 seconds remaining. Gahr had the ball for less than nine minutes and ran 23 plays in the first half. That would change for the final 24 minutes.

On Gahr’s first possession of the second half, a bad snap on a punt attempt put the ball at the seven-yard line where two plays later, Lehmar scored from a yard out. But the Gladiators regained the lead almost three minutes later when Simpson threw his fourth touchdown pass of the night, this one to Sandoval for 36 yards. Simpson would end the night 11 of 24 for 391 yards and all but one of his completions went for at least 12 yards.

“He is still inconsistent,” Marshall said. “He could have had a big night; he kept missing guys. And that was a big problem in the first half, and in the second. He’s okay, but he’s not executing at a high enough rate for us because we can’t stop anyone on defense.”

The Gladiators were still looking somewhat good early in the fourth quarter when Eamon Pool-Harris couldn’t get a field goal attempt off because of a bad snap. But starting at its own four-yard line, they could only get to the 27-yard line before punting. However, another bad snap resulted in a safety and a 28-23 lead with 8:25 left in the game.

“He just snapped it over his head,” Marshall said of his center. “He’s been fine all year, then he had a semi-bad one last week and then [tonight], he snapped two over his head.”

After gaining 392 yards in the first half, the Gladiators were limited to 60 yards in the second half. Simpson completed only two passes and was sacked four times after halftime.

“We were out there all night, number one,” Marshall said. “Then number two, we got tired because all those guys were playing both ways for the first time. We used all our linemen both ways.”

On paper, this seemed to be a crossroads game for both teams. The Saints, who won the division championship two seasons ago, were coming in winless while a Gahr win would have gone far as it hosts Mayfair High tonight at Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium. The Monsoons are 4-1 and ranked fifth in Division 6. Last season, they finished 11-2 after falling to Burroughs High in the Division 9 semifinals. So, a 1-4 start is the last thing Gahr needs heading into San Gabriel Valley League action.

“That doesn’t matter,” Marshall said. “If we play a better game, we’ll win. We just don’t play a clean game. Who are you going to beat with the way we fumble the ball, snap the ball over the [punter’s] head? Who are we going to beat anyway? You’re not going to beat anybody playing like that. And that’s our last three games we’ve been like that. I can’t really tell you where it ends. It’s all over the place. The opposition has nothing to do with it.”