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Artesia High moves on to championship game as defense has its day against Laguna Beach, faces Linfield Christian

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

Just like most of its games this season, the Artesia High football team put together another dominating performance. But this time, it just wasn’t senior quarterback Heder Gladden or senior running back Travys Davis doing the damage.

The Artesia defense stole the show against Laguna Beach High in a CIF-Southern Section Division 12 semifinal game, yielding 43 yards in the second half in dismantling the second-ranked Breakers 48-6 this past Friday night at Atkins Stadium. The third-ranked Pioneers (10-3 overall) will now face top-ranked Linfield Christian High on Saturday night at 7:00 at Murrieta Mesa High for the Division 12 championship. It will be Artesia’s first trip to a divisional championship game and before this season, no Artesia football team had ever won multiple playoff games in any season.

“I honestly didn’t, I honestly didn’t,” Gladden said on his thoughts of ever reaching a championship game. “It’s been a long ride. Everybody’s been executing, everybody’s been doing their job and their assignments. The coaches are coaching us well and we’re executing as best as we can.”

It’s the first time all season that the Pioneers have allowed less than 20 points in a game, which is a far cry from the previous two weeks in which they had to rally from 14 points down against Ramona High and Rio Hondo Prep. This time, Artesia built a 20-6 first quarter lead and never looked back.

“It’s the same thing every week,” said Artesia head coach Don Olmstead. “If we can get stops, Heder and Travys are going to play. They’re going to play; they’re ready every week. They’re mature, they’re seniors and we rely on them. It’s just can our defense step up and tonight they did. Our defense played awesome tonight. Our defensive coordinator has been begging for a game like this all year and he got it.”

Olmstead added that this was the best defensive performance his team has had, and it came against a quarterback that had thrown for 3,077 yards and 41 touchdowns entering the game. As it turned out, he never got a chance to throw for a lot of yards because he was getting pressured by Artesia’s defense. On consecutive plays late in the first quarter, senior inside linebacker Leroy Gladden sacked Andrew Johnson for six and seven-yard losses. That forced a punt, but instead, a high snap over the head of punter Noah Handel put the ball in the endzone where junior outside linebacker Laquan Ware-Morales pounced on it to give the Pioneers a 20-6 lead. Johnson would be sacked two more times in the second quarter and again in the fourth quarter. In all, he had eight plays totaling 27 yards in negative yardage.

“We’ve been waiting for a game like this,” Olmstead said. “And they made a couple of mistakes. But I knew that up front, we could scheme a little bit and that’s what we did. We got a couple of sacks early that got us the ball back and then I knew we could extend the lead as long as we could do that.”

Olmstead said those two sacks, plus the fumble recovery may had been the turning point, but he was quick to point out that in a playoff game, you can’t let off the gas because the Breakers can put points on the board and at any point, the tide could change.

But after both teams traded punts to begin the second quarter, Artesia began to put the game out of reach as Davis scored on runs of 25 and 38 yards respectively in a span of 1:52 to make it 34-6 at the half. In the first half alone, Davis was already up to 230 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns while Heder Gladden had 75 yards on six carries plus a 53-yard touchdown run with 4:02 left in the first quarter that gave the Pioneers the lead for good.



“We just needed to have our guys keep their head up, even if they gained a few yards,” Gladden said. “Even more than a few yards, we still have to keep playing.”

Artesia began the second half by going 80 yards on seven plays, ending with a Heder Gladden five-yard score. The rest of the third quarter would be all defense by both teams, especially Artesia which gave up seven yards on six plays and got an interception from junior defensive back P.J. Holmes almost five minutes into the stanza. Then in the fourth quarter, and under running clock conditions, an interception from senior safety Demarco Burton immediately led to a 55-yard touchdown run from Heder Gladden, who ended the game with 203 yards on 15 carries. Davis finished with 266 yards on 20 touches.

Meanwhile, Johnson was unable to get into any type of groove, completing nine passes in 28 attempts for 135 yards. At one point, he was incomplete on seven straight passes. On the ground, Shane Lythgoe picked up 57 yards on eight carries.

“I think we took away [Johnson’s] first read,” Olmstead said. “He’s a kid who likes to catch and throw it, and he’s good at it. I figured if we could take away his first read and make him kind of a second and third read [quarterback], then we would have a chance.”

“I honestly am [surprised] because Rio Hondo was a little more challenging than [Laguna Beach] and to come out here and blow them out…it was a good team win,” Heder Gladden said of the blowout win.

Now, the Pioneers will have to face not only the top-ranked team in the division, but a program that won a divisional championship in 2009 but lost in the 2015 Northwest Division title game. The Lions have scored 719 points while allowing 94 and have posted eight shutouts, including four straight to begin the season.

Linfield Christian (12-1), with an enrollment of 750, is led by running back Kenric Jameison, who rushed for 1,788 yards and scored 25 touchdowns, and quarterback Kaleb Maresh, who has passed for 2,009 yards with 29 touchdowns and rushed for 724 yards and 13 more touchdowns. His top receiver is Travion Brown (34 receptions, 879 yards, 18 touchdowns). The Lions are averaging near 454 yards a game. On defense, they have sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times and intercepted them 18 times.

Artesia’s defense will be put to its toughest test of the season because the Lions have scored at least 40 points in five straight games while at the same time, the Pioneers have allowed an average of 28.6 during their last five games.

“We don’t fear anybody; that’s it,” Heder Gladden said.

“It’s awesome,” Olmstead said of playing for a championship. “So far, it’s changed the culture of the school and the expectation, and our whole goal was getting to the playoffs and seeing what we can do. To get a team like this that comes into our place in the semifinal game and win the way that we did makes it even better.”