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WEEK ONE FOOTBALL: Cerritos blows out Firebaugh in school’s first varsity on-campus game

CERRITOS HIGH SENIOR quarterback Nick Lightell is off to the races as Firebaugh High’s Jalyn Henderson tries to catch him in last Friday afternoon’s 46-8 victory in the school’s first varsity on-campus game. Lightell completed six of seven passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns and added another 28 yards on three carries. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The Cerritos High football team stepped away from Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium on the Gahr High campus last Friday afternoon to do something no other varsity team in school history had ever done. For the first time, the Dons hosted a varsity game on campus and although the temperature at opening kickoff was 88 degrees and never changed throughout the contest, the game and everything around it was a success.

Cerritos scored on six first half possessions and added a safety in the first quarter en route to a 46-8 conquest in which a running clock was used for the entire second half. It was the season-opener for the Dons, who produced 433 yards of total offense.

“It’s very important because one of the first things I said when I was hired was Friday nights are not about football teams,” said Cerritos head coach Barry Thomas of the home day game. “It’s about the entire school; it’s about the community. So, we wanted to do something like that for the community and for the school and generate some enthusiasm, obviously. The players worked hard, but it’s about the school; it’s about school spirit and 10, 15, 20 years from now, nobody will remember scores, but they’ll remember experiences and they’ll remember, ‘hey, remember that game we played during the day’? It’s about the experiences that they can’t take away.”

On the first play of the game, following a 45-yard kickoff return from senior Christian Dantzler, senior quarterback Nick Lightell launched a 40-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver David Huh. When the Dons got the ball back, it took six plays before Lightell connected again, this time to junior wide receiver Chaz Sanchez for a 40-yard strike and just over four minutes into the game, it was 14-0.

The Cerritos defense, which was stellar against the CIF-Southern Section Division 14 team that has 27 players, posted a safety on Firebaugh’s 10thplay of game as Tommy Lopez was tackled in the endzone by senior linebacker Jaden Barrett. Then on the next play, Lightell threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Dantzler, making it 23-0 with 3:29 remaining in the opening quarter. 

It all wasn’t about the pass game as junior running back Moises Vargas scored on a six-yard run early in the second quarter. The defense would have a say again in the next score, which came 14 seconds later. 

Senior Gilbert Cobian recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, then Lightell and Huh hooked up with an easy six-yard score. The final Cerritos touchdown came with 2:00 minutes remaining in the half when sophomore backup quarterback David Sagun misplayed the snap from center but recovered a launched a 92-yard pass to Sanchez.

“Yeah, he sophomored it,” Thomas chuckled. “But then he got himself together. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and he did finish the play well. The one positive that I can’t pull, before I see any of the film, is the character of our kids [and] the fact that we stuck with each other even when a mistake was made. Guys rallied around each other and that’s the important thing right now.”

The Cerritos defense, which yielded a touchdown four plays into the second half, allowed 26 yards on 29 first half plays. The Falcons crossed midfield once in the first half, and that came on a Cerritos penalty. Because of the running clock, Firebaugh ran eight plays in the second half. Meanwhile, the Dons got a 23-yard field goal from senior Noah Garcia in the fourth quarter, capping off a 17-play drive.

Lightell completed six passes in seven attempts for 156 yards while Vargas rushed for 74 yards on nine carries. Sophomore Conner Defrain played the entire second half and picked up 50 yards on 11 carries. Huh and Sanchez each caught two touchdown passes as the Dons host Bolsa Grande High tonight at Rants Stadium. Last season, Cerritos crushed the Matadors 68-27 as Lightell threw for 481 yards and a school record seven touchdowns.

“It was good,” Thomas said. “The score doesn’t matter, like we talked about earlier. It’s about our details and we’re going to find out what details we missed and try to improve on those. You can always get better.”

As far as if Cerritos will have another on-campus football game, Thomas said there were lots of moving parts to pull this one together. But he wanted to thank the Cerritos High administration, principal Patrick Walker, the band, the baseball team working the chains, the boys soccer team moving things around and the ABC Unified School District maintenance personnel bringing temporary bleachers, among others.

“Everybody had a great attitude, everybody wanted to see this thing go off successfully,” Thomas said. “My booster club, the sports med department, everybody…it was a total community effort.”