_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


WEEK ZERO FOOTBALL – Cerritos’ defense clamps down in second half as Dons double up Buena Park

Cerritos high school logo, don

August 22, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X/Twitter

The 2023 opener for the Cerritos High football team last Friday night at Rants Stadium wasn’t quite explosive as last season’s 48-21 setback to Buena Park High. But the Dons proudly know they won’t have to wait until their fourth game of the season to get a victory, as was the case in 2022.

With all the scoring coming in the first half, the Cerritos defense held its own in the second half, forcing the Coyotes to go three and out on their first four drives over the final 24 minutes and holding them to 44 yards as the Dons knocked off Buena Park 14-7. It was the first season-opening victory for the black and gold since 2021 when it beat Buena Park 24-14. Now, Cerritos will go for its first 2-0 start since 2019.

“When we built this team, I let everybody know we’re going to be defense first,” said first-year head coach Demel Franklin. “This is going to be nice when we’re going to play a tough team and [its] defense is going to have to hold us down. We got our points early and then we just couldn’t figure it out. We were missing some blocks, dropping a ball, fumbling and turning [the ball] over. 

“But I know I can always count on our defense,” he continued. “They’re amazing and we put them through a lot in the summer.”

He added that the coaching staff has been around for five years, and this is the first chance they’ve had a say and that everybody feels like they are part of the team and their voice matters. That’s what he wanted to institute as soon as he was named the head coach. 

Cerritos struggled in the first quarter as the Coyotes took the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards in seven plays, capped by a 13-yard touchdown run from Jaden Moore just over five minutes into the game. 

After that, Buena Park would not cross midfield until early in the fourth quarter while the hosts were rebounding from a lackluster first quarter performance that saw the team gain five yards off six plays. Cerritos would get the ball at Buena Park’s 11-yard line 41 seconds into the second quarter and needed four plays to tie the game, complements on a three-yard run from junior running back Josiah Ungos. 

Franklin then went into his bag of tricks, going for an onside kick from senior Moises Mendoza and the Dons were successful. Starting at their own 45-yard line, the Dons marched to the 29-yard line where on fourth and eight, a prayer was answered. Senior quarterback Julian Morales tossed a pass to junior wide receiver Ruben Castro and after the ball was tipped a few times, Castro snatched the pigskin in the endzone to put the Dons in front.

“Ruben is highly underrated, and his hand-eye coordination is crazy,” said Franklin. “He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever coached in my life. He doesn’t turn down any workout, he catches everything, and he never gives up on a play. He’ll block, return punts, do anything that we need, no questions asked. I love that kid.”

Then in the ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ category, Mendoza was called upon for another onside kick, which was successful. While the Dons gained only 12 yards on the drive, the three straight drives consumed nearly 11 minutes of the stanza. And when the half was over, both teams had less than 80 yards of offense.

“We saw the athletes they have on film and there’s no way I’m going to kick it to the best athletes on their team,” said Franklin. “I’m going to kick it to the guys up front that have to block. Schematically we work on that every day in practice.”

The only difference in the second half was that the Dons had the lead because both defenses were nearly flawless. Cerritos ran eight plays in the third quarter and gained 30 yards while the Coyotes had minus eight yards on nine plays, thanks in part to sacks from junior Natano Manu and senior Jeremiah Bagaygay on consecutive plays. In the fourth quarter, following an interception by Moore, the Coyotes started at their own 30-yard line. Moore picked up five yards on a run, then hurdled over two defenders down the far sideline for a 30-yard gain. After Franklin called a timeout with 8:22 remaining in the game, Moore picked up another 11 yards and four plays later, he came up two yards short on fourth down from the 21-yard line for the defining moment in the game.

“Well, even with that, we put our defense in a lot of bad situations in practice every single day just to make sure that when we get in this situation, we’ve seen it before,” said Franklin. “When he hurdled, it was an amazing play. I thought it was illegal because he hurdled them. But come to my surprise, [the CIF] changed the rule this year.”

Morales completed eight of 10 passes for 40 yards and was picked off once while Ungos gained 47 yards on a dozen carries and junior running back Dikshanta Adhikari added 23 yards on eight touches. He also caught four passes for eight yards while Castro caught three passes for 27 yards.

“With Josiah, it was hard because he’s a converted basketball player,” said Franklin. “But with his size, I [asked him] to come out and we were going to find something for him to do. He’s a big guy, he’s hard to tackle and he has a great attitude. He’s a team guy and he’ll block for the O-line or he’ll run the ball.

“Julian, I’ve coached him since he was seven years old,” he continued. “He’s a gutsy, tough guy and he knows the game better than probably anybody I’ve ever coached.”

Defensively, sophomore linebackers Jacob Hoosac and Tyler Ky had four and three and a half tackles respectively while sophomore lineman Bailey Crawford added three tackles.

The Dons will travel to Orange County on Friday to face Woodbridge High in a game played on the Portola High campus. The Warriors, who defeated Cerritos 37-19 last season, are coming off a 33-7 loss to Northwood High last Friday. Woodbridge, coming off a 5-6 campaign last season, is mentored by former Artesia High head coach Aaron Craver. 

“There’s going to be a ton of film studying,” said Franklin. “We’re going to correct our mistakes on blocking. A lot of [our mistakes] were on blocking. We’re going to clean all that up and we’ll be a different team next week. Woodbridge is a formidable opponent, and we have our work cut out for us.”