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WEEK SEVEN FOOTBALL : Artesia gives defending divisional champions run for their money in turnover-filled game

Artesia High junior defensive back Kyeyou Lenoir makes a tackle on Western High’s Caine Savage in last Thursday night’s affair. Artesia lost 34-23 to end its non-league slate at 2-5. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer. 

By Loren Kopff 

@LorenKopff on Twitter 

ANAHEIM-When you put a young team that is going through a lot of growing pains up against the defending CIF-Southern Section Division 11 champions, you would expect a blowout. Not the case with Artesia High’s football team when it faced host Western High last Thursday night at Handel Stadium. 

Artesia went toe to toe in the first half and had a halftime lead, then trailed by four points entering the fourth quarter. But back to back interceptions thrown by senior quarterback Tyler Kemp on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter allowed the host Pioneers to come away with a 34-23 victory. Artesia dropped its record to 2-5 as it begins its defense of the 605 League crown tonight against Cerritos High. 

“I thought we came out and played well,” said Artesia head coach Don Olmstead. “I was really proud of our kids. We talked all week about just competing and then see what happens. I felt like we did that in both halves. In the second half, they made some plays; they have some guys who are pretty good and they’re going to get the ball in their hands no matter what we do.” 

The game would be marred by turnovers and penalties by both teams, thus keeping the contest as close as it was for the most part. In fact, there were two more combined turnovers than total touchdowns and the two combatants were flagged a combined 23 times for 170 yards On Western’s second possession of the game, senior defensive back Jakeem Steger picked off Isiah Del Toro. While Artesia didn’t do anything with the miscue, senior linebacker Garret Ross picked off Isiah Del Toro on Western’s next play. 

That turnover would lead to the first score of the game, a 36-yard run up the middle by Kemp with 3:05 left in the first quarter. On the third play of the ensuing possession, Del Toro threw his third pick of the quarter, this one to junior lineman Raul Bello. The first quarter featured just the three interceptions, but the visiting Pioneers ran 12 offensive plays and had 39 yards. 

Western got on the board with 5:12 left in the half when junior running back Corey McKinley was tackled in the end zone for a safety, then four plays later, took an 8-7 lead on a four-yard run from Robbie Sauvao. Artesia would spend the better part of the remaining 3:57 of the half driving for a go-ahead score, which would be a 34-yard field goal from senior Eduardo Ramos-Zuniga. 

When Artesia hosted Western last season to wrap up its 2018 non-league slate, it trailed 42-24 at halftime and went on to lose 72-31 as the red and black was missing its star quarterback, Heder Gladden. In the rematch, Artesia benefited from Western’s top two receivers-Caine and Cassius Savage-being limited to a combined seven receptions and 89 yards. 

“I didn’t think they got their guys the ball,” Olmstead said of the first half. “They hit [Cassius Savage] and he takes off. They hit [Caine Savage] and he takes off. It’s really hard to limit those guys and not give them the ball because their running back is pretty good too. We bend and we bend and eventually they made a couple of plays late that separated the game. 

“The defense, I thought, played really well,” he continued. “You’re holding this team to 34 points with two [NCAA] Division I receivers on it…that’s a good day. Offensively, we just have to keep figuring out what we can do and keep getting better.” 

All of that would change in the second half. After McKinley scored on a 15-yard run on the fourth play of the half to go up 17-8, Del Toro capped off a long 10-play drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Caine Savage. Steger nearly picked off Del Toro in the middle of the drive. Then after Artesia punted, Western regained the lead when Cassius Savage caught a 38-yard pass from Del Toro. 

Artesia would go up 23-21 on the first play of the fourth quarter when Grant Ross hauled in a 76-yard pass from Kemp. But Western would come back and took the lead for good when Del Toro tossed a 45-yard pass to Simi Ah-Loe, Following Kemp’s second interception of the game, Sauvao iced the game with a 44-yard touchdown run. Caine Savage then picked off Kemp on the next game and Western ran off 3:37, making sure Artesia would not have a chance for a rally. 

Kemp, who replaced sophomore quarterback K’Len Williams midway through the first quarter, completed five of his first nine passes for 141 yards while rushing for 106 yards on 17 carries. 

“I thought Tyler played great,” Olmstead said. “This is really his second or third game of varsity football because K’Len played for a couple of games. I thought he played well. There’s some stuff that he needs to see that he didn’t see on the screen. There’s little stuff that we’ll learn from it on film. But I thought overall, it was a good night for him.” 

Defensively, senior middle linebacker Malek Kangas had half a dozen tackles and three sacks while Ramos-Zuniga and Garret Ross each had four tackles. For Artesia, which has had its share of injuries this season already knowing it was going to be young, to score 23 points against a team it had lost to by over 40 points last season is a moral victory for Olmstead. It was just the third time this season Artesia had reached at least 20 points and the performance came after consecutive weeks of an 8-0 loss to El Dorado High and a 58-7 loss to Segerstrom High, which is ranked second in the division. 

“Just to play hard,” Olmstead said of his message to his team. “We’re young, so they’re going to make mistakes and we can’t bury them when they make mistakes. I think we’re getting better. I think the El Dorado game we played okay. Last week we didn’t play very well, but it’s a good team. This week, I think we played really well.”