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WEEK ZERO FOOTBALL: Cerritos grinds out opening season victory with significant long drives on offense and defense


By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter


It may have taken a little more than a quarter before Cerritos High started to get its wheels in motion in its first game of the season. But once the Dons got into a grove, there was no stopping them last Thursday night at Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium.

A critical defensive stop after a long drive by Buena Park High, a pair of recovered onside kicks to begin the second half and a time-consuming offensive drive in the fourth quarter paved the way for Cerritos to come away with a 24-14 victory.

Cerritos went three and out on the opening drive of the game and three plays into its second drive, a fumble gave the Coyotes possession at their own 27-yard line. Buena Park would consume the remaining 6:33 of the first quarter and the first 2:34 of the second quarter before a three-yard run by Isaiah Garcia on fourth and four from the 10-yard line fell a yard short.

“First game jitters for sure, I think, on both teams,” said Cerritos head coach Brad Carter. “There were some early mistakes. But I was proud of our team of how we settled in. I thought the second and third quarters, we played really well. A little loose in the fourth; everybody got onto the field, which is always a goal, and we’ll be ready to go next week.”

Cerritos would parlay that into a 10-play, 5:14 drive that was highlighted by an 18-yard gain around the left side on a play-action fake from senior quarterback David Sagun. The drive ended with senior wide receiver Mateo Martinez scampering in from 17 yards out with 4:12 left in the half.

“That was a big stop for sure,” Carter said. “The defense came through at the goal line They went for it on fourth down, we had a big stop, and the offense came back and responded. So that was a huge tone-setter for us.”

“It was a good momentum shifter,” Sagun said. “We stopped them on “D” and our offense started rolling. I hyped up my guys in the huddle and we did what we had to do.”

After the Dons forced Buena Park to punt for the only time in the game, the hosts increased their lead to 14-0 on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Sagun to senior wide receiver Jonathan Martinez, who would also pick off Danez Maxey on the last play of the half.

At the half, Sagun was already 12 of 18 for 119 yards and at one stretch, had completed his first four passes, seven of his first eight and 10 of his first 12.

To ensure that the Dons would continue to add on to their lead, sophomore linebacker Jerimiah Bagaygay recovered an onside kick to begin the second half, which led to a 30-yard field goal by Jonathan Martinez two minutes in. If that wasn’t good enough, the Coyotes were victims again of bad coverage on a short kickoff and the Dons had the ball again at Buena Park’s 35-yard line. While Cerritos didn’t score on that drive, it was sending a statement that if it was going to have the ball at any point in the half, the Dons would make sure they would score or hold on to the ball as long as they could.

“It was supposed to be a kick on the ground,” Carter said of the first onside kick. “And then we teach the kids if it’s loose, you go get it and they did a great job. We would go over that a lot during the practice week and it paid dividends for us.”

“First off, it took a lot of work during the summer,” Sagun said. “I know a lot of people wanted to quit and then it just kind of brought the mentality down. But it showed today; we put in a lot of work this offseason.

“We started off slow; that was on me,” he continued. “I wasn’t as directive as the team. But as [the game] started rolling, the sideline was amazing [and] our defense was amazing.”

Buena Park had the ball twice in the second half, but the first time benefited Cerritos despite giving up a touchdown. Buena Park, down by 17 points with 20:09 remaining in the game, held the ball for 7:30 during a 12-play, 67-yard drive. Cerritos then put the nail in the coffin in a monster way by controlling the next 10:33 as it put together a 20-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Sagun one-yard run. During the drive, Cerritos converted a trio of third downs of at least five yards and two fourth downs. When Sagun made it 24-7, there was 2:06 left on the clock.

“That was huge,” Carter said. “We kept getting these big little completions; we had a couple of big catches by the receivers. Great job by Sagun to move us downfield. That pretty much iced the game for us.

“He controlled the game; had a lot of great completions,” Carter later said. “He still missed some throws, but I know he’s going to get that right next week. He’s a leader on the field; that’s his biggest plus.”

“I thought I did really well,” Sagun said. “There were some mistakes; I made [some] little misses and I should have hit them.”

Sagun ended the game completing 23 of 31 passes for 203 yards and the one touchdown while Mateo Martinez hauled in 11 passes for 67 yards and junior wide receiver Dylan Burton added six receptions for 49 yards. On the ground, junior running back Quincy Monreal picked up 61 yards on 13 carries, filling in nicely for senior running back Connor Defrain who was limited to 12 yards on three first quarter touches. Defensively, senior linebacker Erick Louie, III led the way with eight tackles while three others all had five tackles a piece.

“Conner kind of got a tight hamstring and Quincy…he’s been having a really, really tough offseason and he had some good hard runs for us,” Carter said. “What I was proud of is he recovered after the fumble.”

Next up for the Dons is a road game tonight at Banning High in Wilmington. It will be the season opener for the Pilots out of the Marine League of the CIF-Los Angeles City Section.