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CIF-SS DIVISION 12 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Artesia’s upset bid against Moreno Valley fades in final half of fourth quarter

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

MORENO VALLEY-The final score may show that Artesia High fell to Moreno Valley High 41-14 in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 first round playoffs last Friday night at Rooney Field. But the final score is not indicative of how close the Pioneers played the third seeded team in the division.

Artesia trailed the Vikings 21-14 with 7:09 left to play and had the ball after its defense forced a three and out. But the second place representatives out of the 605 League gained four yards on six plays and had to punt. After that, Moreno Valley scored on two straight long touchdown runs and Leroy Louis returned an interception back for a touchdown to round out the scoring.

“They’re a resilient group and that’s kind of what we saw here,” said Artesia head coach Don Olmstead of his team. “They lose a game, [then] they kind of bounce back. [They] lose a tough game, [then] win a tough game. But they’re really resilient and that’s probably what we’re going to remember most about this group.

“A lot of them contributed last year to the CIF finals and this year, the younger guys came in and played well,” he continued. “But experience kind of takes over in the games late that we had last year when we won the Rio Hondo [Prep] game late. We won the Ramona game; kind of bounced back and beat them. This time, we didn’t get it done.”

The game began with Moreno Valley’s Elijah Kelsey returning the game’s opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. It would remain 7-0 until Kelsey scored on a 17-yard run with 20.1 seconds left in the first quarter. The Pioneers would get on the board with 4:24 left in the first half when sophomore quarterback K’Len Williams threw a 29-yard strike to senior wide receiver Grant Ross. 

But all night long, Artesia was unable to get its young offense going. Williams and senior quarterback Tyler Kemp combined to go five of 10 for 99 yards in the first half while the rushing game would be grounded, picking up seven yards on 16 carries.

“I thought our defense played great all night,” Olmstead said. “The 41 points does not dictate how the game went. It was 21, then it got to 28 on a long run. Then it ballooned with the two picks and the long run and it’s kind of over. [Senior linebackers] Eduardo [Ramos-Zuniga] and Malek [Kangas] played great in the middle. Our D-line played great; they couldn’t run anything between the tackles. That’s why they tried to get outside, and they did. 

“They have two great running backs that are fast that are probably going to be big time recruits,” he continued. “One is a sophomore, so he’s going to be pretty good for the next couple of years. That’s kind of what happens. It looked like a group with a bunch of seniors playing against a group with a bunch of sophomores and juniors. We just didn’t have the experience to be able to do more stuff that we wanted to do.”

Moreno Valley had the ball for just over five minutes in the second quarter and had drives end with a fumble and two punts. Meanwhile, the Vikings extended their lead to 21-7 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter when Kelsey bolted for a 71-yard run. Williams would make the game closer with a one-yard run almost three minutes into the fourth quarter. But the Pioneers gained 18 yards in the final stanza on 21 plays and finished the game with 157 yards.

Sophomore running back Tyler Miller had 50 hard yards on 13 carries while Williams, who was sacked seven times, gained 12 yards on 16 carries and completed four second half passes for zero yards.

“We couldn’t break anybody loose,” Olmstead said. “We kind of bet on the fact that we’re going to get somebody loose at some point and see if he can take it all the way. Tyler had a couple of good runs. But we just couldn’t sustain it the whole game. That’s not what we do; you never see us throw the ball that much.

“We were trying to run some stuff that we hadn’t run a lot that was there that we ran earlier in the year,” Olmstead later said of the fourth quarter. “Like I said, experience kind of takes over. Last year with Heder [Gladden] and Travys [Davis], we could call something in game one and they would know when to run it. We’re just not there yet. We have a 14-year old quarterback and a 14-year old running back, and that’s kind of tough.”

Artesia finished its up and down season at 4-7. The Pioneers lost two in a row early in the season, scoring a combined 27 points, then knocked off Westminster High 21-7 before going on a three-game skid in which they reached double figures once. But the team rebounded in league play, scoring 47 points against Cerritos High and 61 points against Pioneer High in the regular season finale. The lone league blemish came against John Glenn High, a 47-28 setback.

“We challenged them after the Glenn game,” Olmstead said. “The Glenn game I thought we didn’t play well across the board. Offense, defense, special teams…we got beat. So, we challenged them a little bit going into the Pioneer week and the kids bounced back.”