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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 12 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS : Gladden brothers help send Artesia into semifinals for first time in school history

Artesia High senior quarterback Heder Gladden puts his team up for the first time on the last of his three touchdowns against Rio Hondo Prep last Friday night in a CIF-Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal game. Gladden rushed for 224 yards on 23 carries as the Pioneers edged the Kares 41-27 with a late touchdown, then a game-saving interception from senior inside linebacker LeRoy Gladden. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

IRWINDALE-One half of Artesia High’s dynamic offense is centered around senior quarterback Heder Gladden, but there was another member of that household that stole the spotlight in the final seconds of a CIF-Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal game. Senior inside linebacker LeRoy Gladden made a miraculous interception at the four-yard line with nine seconds to preserve a 41-37 victory over host Rio Hondo Prep last Friday night at Kare Park.

The win moved the third-ranked Pioneers (9-3 overall) into tonight’s home semifinal contest against second-ranked Laguna Beach. It’s the first time in school history that an Artesia football team has advanced to the semifinals as well as win two playoff games in the same season.

The Pioneers were trailing the Kares 37-34 with 2:04 left in the game but engineered a frantic nine-play drive that covered 80 yards. Senior running back Travys Davis, who earlier had consecutive 12-yard gains, scored from two yards out with 46 seconds remaining.

RHP got the ball at the Artesia 27-yard line and converted a huge fourth and 10 play when Jacob Lang hauled in a 23-yard pass from Evan Foor. That was followed by a Foor to Lang connection of 24 yards, putting the ball at the nine-yard line. But on the next play, LeRoy Gladden, who told his teammates in the postgame meeting, ‘this wasn’t my last game, I told you this wasn’t my last game’, tipped a Foor pass twice, fell to the ground and caught the ball on his back for probably the biggest play of the school’s history. His postgame statement was in reference to what he had said on the team bus back at Artesia some six hours prior.

“I did my pass drop and I saw the ball,” he said. “I thought the ball was going to go straight to the ground. I slapped it up and grabbed it with one hand. Man, I was nervous, I was nervous.”

“That’s what it comes down to,” said Artesia head coach Don Olmstead. “It’s kind of similar to last week. If we get a couple of stops, I think we would be in a good position to win the game. LeRoy makes a play late. You’re not going to see an interception quite as good as that one.”

Olmstead was referring to Artesia’s 59-42 first-round win over Ramona High in which it trailed 21-7 early in the game. Against RHP, the Pioneers were down 29-14 midway through the second half before scoring 20 unanswered points.

With the score 29-14, Heder Gladden scored from 12 yards out with three minutes remaining in the first half. Then, with 4.9 seconds remaining in the half, Davis picked off Foor at the 15-yard line on fourth and 25 at the 32-yard line. That would prove crucial because the Pioneers would receive the ball to begin the second half. Although both teams would be held on downs on their respective initial drives of the second half, Davis’ 21-yard run with 1:40 left in the third quarter made it 29-28.

“That was another big play,” Olmstead said of the interception. “Travys has kind of done that all year and he’s made plays when we’ve needed plays. He made a couple of plays with the ball in his hands on offense.”

Another stop on downs to begin the fourth quarter enabled the Pioneers to take their first lead. Starting at their own 44-yard line, the Pioneers had a nine-play drive that lasted just over four minutes, their longest drive of the night. It ended with Heder Gladden scoring from five yards out, but the touchdown may not have happened. Earlier in the drive, Heder Gladden connected with senior wide receiver Marcel Bowman for a 22-yard gain, putting the ball at the three-yard line. But the play was called back because of a penalty.


Artesia High senior running back Travys Davis is off to the races fro some of his 99 yards against Rio Hondo Prep in last Friday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal game. Davis also scored three times as the Pioneers defeated the Kares 41-37 to advance to the semifinals for the first time on school history. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.



The Kares would then chew up almost six minutes of the clock to regain the lead when Alex Esquiaqui tacked on his third touchdown of the game, a five-yarder. The hosts had gone 69 yards on 13 plays, all but one being on the ground.

“That’s the biggest thing with this team, is that they’re resilient,” Olmstead said. “We were resilient last week and came back from down [14] points and this week we did the same thing. That’s probably the greatest characteristics you have on a team.”

“They were beating us on the outside in the first half,” LeRoy Gladden said. “They were whipping us in the first half, but we decided to wake up.”

Both teams traded touchdowns on the first five possessions of the contest. Artesia tied the game at 7-7 on a Davis 27-yard run and knotted the contest at 14-14 early in the second quarter when Heder Gladden added a two-yard score. The Kares then dominated the next 3:49, getting a three-yard rushing touchdown from Bryant Flores and his own two-point conversion. On Artesia’s next possession, a 17-yard catch from Bowman was called back because of offsetting penalties and on the next play, the Pioneers fumbled, leading to a 14-yard score from Esquiaqui.

Heder Gladden led everyone with 223 yards on 23 carries and was five of 10 passing for 110 yards while Davis picked up another 99 yards on 20 touches. Flores led the Kares with 179 yards on 24 carries while Esquiaqui added another 40 yards on nine runs. Foor was 12 of 23 for 224 yards but had the two critical interceptions at the end of each half.

“I thought they were almost identical to us,” Olmstead said. “We just run it from open sets and they run it closed sets. But they do their stuff and they do it well, and it’s hard to stop at the high school level.”

“Heder and Travys are two great players,” LeRoy Gladden said. “They’re a dynamic duo; they were running their hardest and I’m just proud of them. I’m glad to play with them. Hopefully I get to play with them in college.”

The Pioneers will now be put to the test when Laguna Beach comes to town. The Breakers are 10-2 and were tri-champions of the Pac 4 League with Ocean View High and Western High. Artesia dropped a 72-31 loss to Western on Oct. 5, a game in which Heder Gladden missed due to an injury.

“That’s sweet; that’s something we’ve looked at for a long time,” Olmstead said of advancing this far. “If we could just get to the playoffs, we could maybe do some damage. And they way we went about tonight made it even sweeter.”

Laguna Beach is led by quarterback Andrew Johnson, who has completed 227 passes in 400 attempts for 3,077 yards and 41 touchdowns. But, he has also been intercepted 13 times. His favorite targets are Sean Nolan (70 receptions, 1,184 yards, 18 touchdowns), Kai Ball (46 receptions, 705 yards, nine touchdowns) and Shane Lythgoe (32 receptions, 243 yards, six touchdowns). On the ground, Lythgoe has rushed for 837 yards on 187 carries and found the end zone nine times. The Breakers, who also defeated RHP back on Oct. 5, have totaled 4,819 all-purpose yards to Artesia’s 5,652. The winner of this game will face the either top-ranked Linfield Christian High or Xavier Prep for the Division 12 title.

“They chuck it all over the place,” Olmstead said of Laguna Beach. “They have a big quarterback who throws the ball well. They’re going to be a handful, but at this point, everybody is. It’s not like who we’re playing is a real big deal. They’re good; they’ve won two games [in the playoffs] too. So, that’s where we’re at.”