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WEEK TWO FOOTBALL – Artesia’s bid for rare 3-0 stopped by Bolsa Grande despite second half rally

September 6, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

GARDEN GROVE-The Artesia High football team has been putting up video game numbers through the first two games of the season and it continued last Friday night at Bolsa Grande High. After scoring just 79 points last season, the Pioneers walked onto the Bolsa Stadium turf last Friday night having put up 109 points in their first two games while yielding just six. 

But they were also facing their toughest challenge thus far in a Matadors team that went to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs last season for the first time since 1987, finished with a 6-6 mark and had split their first two games this season. With that said, Artesia found itself down 31-14 at the half before scoring on its first four drives of the second half. But the Pioneers couldn’t find the end zone on their fifth, and last drive, of the half and fell to the Matadors 49-42 last Friday.

“They definitely fought in the second half; they didn’t give up,” said Artesia first-year head coach Connor Crook. “That was a good sign. I [told] them at halftime the second half was really going to tell us who we were going to be the rest of the season. It wasn’t the final score we wanted, obviously, but they fought the whole second half. It’s still early and we have a lot of things to fix. But our effort and our fight is there, for sure.”

Artesia, which was seeking its first 3-0 start since 2016, began the second half with junior quarterback Charlie Lopez and sophomore running back Josue Flores combining for 62 yards on seven rushes, the last being a six-yard touchdown from Flores as the Pioneers were down 31-21. Bolsa Grande responded with a 30-yard scoring run from David Nguyen, but the two-point conversion failed. Flores and Lopez continued to do their thing on the second Artesia drive of the half, gaining 68 yards on six carries. The drive ended with Lopez going in from 16 yards. 

But three plays later, Ethan Nguyen launched a 62-yard touchdown pass to Marc Navarro with eight seconds left in the third quarter. Artesia would then make it a one-possession affair 72 seconds into the fourth quarter on Lopez’ 12-yard run, plus a Flores run for the extra two points. The excitement would be short-lived as 19 seconds later, David Nguyen raced for a 70-yard touchdown run and with a missed extra point, the score was 49-35. 

The next Artesia possession took 3:14 and ended with Lopez scoring his third touchdown of the game, this one from eight yards out, and after the defense held its own, the Pioneers knew they had 2:43 remaining in regulation for a possible tying score.

Starting at their own 26-yard line, Lopez gained seven yards. Two plays later, Flores rushed for eight yards to move the sticks. Another two plays later, Lopez connected with junior wide receiver Ahkil Sampson for a 15-yard play, putting the ball at the Bolsa Grande 38-yard line. Two plays after that, Flores converted on third and four with a seven-yard gain, followed by a four-yard pass play from Lopez to sophomore wide receiver Eduardo Ordaz, putting the ball at the 21-yard line. Following a timeout, three straight incomplete passes ended the scoring threat.

“The passing game…we still all need to get on the same page as far as quarterbacks and receivers,” said Crook. “We’re still working at that. Once we figure it out, I think we’re going to be pretty dangerous because we can run the ball pretty well. But we’ll fix it. Charlie is getting after it. He has the ability, but we all need to get on the same page.”

The beginning of the game was nearly like the beginning of the second half as both teams scored on their first possession. Just over two minutes into the game, Ethan Nguyen tossed a 22-yard scoring play to Mikey Haley. But Flores and Lopez were just getting started on what would be a big night. They combined for 81 yards on nine plays, ending with a Flores nine-yard touchdown run.

With Bolsa Grande fans outside the press box yelling, ‘they’re running the same play, they’re running the same play’ throughout the entire game, the Pioneers took their only lead of the night on the first play of the second quarter when Flores scampered in from 19 yards out. That would be offset by a Navarro 59-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Lopez led everyone with 293 yards on 25 carries while Flores added 225 yards on 28 carries. To put those numbers into perspective, with another player rushing once for negative yardage, the 508 yards on the ground is the most for Artesia since Oct. 19, 2008 when it rushed for 568 yards against Pioneer High. In that contest, Heder Gladden had 334 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns while Travys Davis contributed with 226 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns. Later that season in the playoffs against Laguna Beach High, Davis and Gladden would each gain over 200 yards.

“Unbelievable,” said Crook. “Those guys are super tough. Josue came into this [season] probably as our fourth string running back. We had guys go down; he stepped up and he is as tough as they come. He ran his butt off tonight, and I’m super proud of him. He’s only a sophomore, he took a beating, he never said a word, he kept asking for the ball and he got it. He ran as hard as he possibly could; he left everything out on the field.”

Flores entered the game with 67 yards on 10 touches, but senior running backs Amaree Davis and Exequiel Hilario, the second and third string running backs, were both injured. They are expected to return for Friday’s game at Ocean View High. Not to be forgotten is the job put in by the offensive line of sophomore Angel Lagunas, junior Deangelo Tucker, senior Chase Adams and senior Hector Ramirez, sophomore Maximus Garcia and senior Jonathan Martinez, from left to right.

While Artesia’s offense was running up and down, around and through Bolsa Grande’s defense, the same could be said for the Matadors. David Nguyen gained 160 yards on 15 carries while Ethan Nguyen completed seven passes for 181 yards and rushed 10 times for 41 yards.

“Those guys are tough too,” said Crook. “We had a lot of young guys this week, it was a tough week because guys were sick [and] guys were out. The guys had to step up and it was a learning experience for all of them. It’s a tough learning experience, obviously with the loss. But those guys got a lot of experience tonight and hopefully they can learn from it and get better moving forward. But there were a lot of open spots on defense tonight that were filled by young guys.”

Defensively, sophomore linebacker Paulo Acevado had four and a half tackles, Adams and senior Santiago Parrilla each had four tackles and sophomore tackle Maximus Garcia had three sacks plus one and a half tackles. Now, the Pioneers go on the road again to visit Ocean View, which saw its two-game winning streak snapped by Gahr High, 43-7 last Friday.

The lone touchdown for the Seahawks was scored in the first quarter, which ended in a 7-7 tie. The Seahawks outscored their first two opponents 67-19 and for the season, quarterback Frankie Armenta is 16 for 39 with 419 yards with five touchdowns. He has also rushed for 36 yards on nine carries with three more touchdowns. Oswaldo Lozano is his favorite target (seven receptions, 287 yards, three touchdowns). On defense, again in the two victories, Jayden Trujillo had 21 tackles and two and a half sacks while Gaige Prichard had 15 tackles.

“Ocean View, with a new head coach, was 2-0 going into tonight,” said Crook. “But they’re going to be tough, too. They’ve been throwing the ball pretty well. I’ve checked them out a little bit. But we’ll get their film and start a gameplan.”