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WEEK THREE FOOTBALL: Gahr’s offense hits a road block against North Torrance, winning streak snapped at two

GAHR HIGH junior quarterback Rashaad Willis (right, #3) attempts a pass to junior running back Johnny Robinson IV in last Friday night’s home game against North Torrance High. Robinson caught a pair of passes for nine yards and Willis completed 14 of 22 passes for 109 yards in Gahr’s 41-7 loss. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

You can’t catch what you can’t tackle and for Gahr High’s defense, it got a taste of North Torrance High’s Stephen Bradford. In just one half of play, Bradford, who entered the game with 388 yards on 56 carries, touched the ball for all 10 of the Saxons’ rushing attempts in the first 24 minutes and gained 109 yards as North Torrance crushed the Gladiators 41-7 last Friday night at Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium.

For Gahr, it was the first loss of the season for a team that is young, inexperienced and didn’t have too many expectations for the 2019 campaign. And despite trailing 7-0 after the first quarter, the turning point in the game came in the second quarter when the Gladiators turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. North Torrance would score on all four of its second quarter possessions to put the game away.

“I don’t think they got themselves ready for the task,” said Gahr head coach Greg Marshall of his team. “This is a much better football team than the last two teams we’ve played. They came in with the same type of attitude and intensity, and that’s not going to work against [North Torrance]. That’s a good football team with a good offense.”

After the Gladiators gained negative yardage on its first drive, Bradford put the Saxons up 7-0 on an eight-yard run with 8:33 left in first quarter. Gahr put together its best drive of the game, going 30 yards in 10 plays. But on the 11thplay and facing fourth and 19 from the North Torrance 39-yard line, junior punter Abraham Delgadillo gained five yards on a fake punt.

Gahr would have the ball for over 14 minutes in the first half and seemed to be moving the ball at times. But with the score 14-0, junior quarterback Rashaad Willis was intercepted by Blake Banks at the North Torrance 20-yard line. A pair of long passes and a five-yard run by Bradford led to a 30-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Keenan Lagarde to Aries Revolinski.

Then on Gahr’s third play of the ensuing possession, a fumble at the North Torrance 37-yard line would eventually lead to a 62-yard touchdown reception to Banks and a 28-0 lead with 2:40 remaining in the first half.  By halftime, the Saxons, despite being penalized 10 times for 76 yards, had already complied 337 yards of offense. In contrast, the Gladiators were held to 47 yards by Willis and 25 yards on the ground. 

“We were just flat all night,” Marshall said. “We weren’t executing on offense and we weren’t tackling on defense. We were missing our assignments on defense and obviously they have a good running back and you have to gap control that guy or he’s going to go crazy. Basically, that’s what happened.”

The Saxons began the second half with six straight runs from Toa Ortega, the last being a 19-yard touchdown run. Gahr responded with a 15-yard score from junior running back Johnny Robinson IV, capping an eight-play, 80-yard drive that took 4:21. It was the only time the hosts would touch the ball in the third quarter.

“It’s the first time for a lot of these guys; we have a very young team,” Marshall said. “They haven’t seen that, so that’s an adjustment. We just weren’t motivated to play tonight.”

Ortega would see the ball seven straight times on the ensuing drive but on the first play of the final stanza, senior defensive end Robert McClain recovered a fumble. Gahr would be stopped on downs after running six plays and when it got the ball again, Delgadillo was short on a 35-yard field attempt with 2:29 left in the game. 

Willis was 14 of 22 for 109 yards and completed nine straight passes in one stretch. Senior wide receiver Daniel Mitchell caught four passes for 58 yards while Robinson IV, the team’s leading rusher this season, picked up 121 yards on 19 carries, most of which came against North Torrance’s backups. On defense, senior lineman Devan Coleman had four tackles while junior defensive back Sean Harbin, junior lineman Anakin Larrabee and junior outside linebacker Kyle Nwosu all had three tackles.

“The problem was some of our younger linemen really didn’t take on to the task of blocking those guys,” Marshall said. “And then we had some pass routes…we can’t just run it. We were trying to run it a little bit. We have to mix it up, and we were tying to mix it up. But the protection broke down and we got behind the sticks.”

After three straight home games and a bye, the Gladiators will hit the road for the first time when they visit Sunny Hills High tonight. The Lancers are also 2-1 and are coming off a 17-10 victory at Brea Olinda High last Friday. Sunny Hills has averaged over 273 rushing yards a game, led by Jun Ahn (466 yards on 70 carries and three touchdowns), Vince Silva (184 yards on 16 carries and four touchdowns) and David Harris (108 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown). Luke Duxbury has thrown for 503 yards and five touchdowns and has completed over 62 percent of his passes.

This will be the first of two straight road games, with the other one being against Mayfair High before Gahr begins San Gabriel Valley League action against Downey High on Oct. 3.

“It was good to play a team [and] say, ‘now you guys know what we’re going to run into’,” Marshall said. “It’s not a wake-up call; they needed to experience it. Now, if we don’t make that adjustment against Mayfair and come out with the same type of intensity and execution, then we’re going to have problems.”