_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


WEEK FIVE FOOTBALL – Injuries continue to mount as Gahr lets game get away in setback to Crean Lutheran

September 27, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The offensive struggles in Gahr High’s blowout loss to Crean Lutheran High last Friday night can be traced back to the first play of its previous game at Santa Ana Valley High. Shortly after the opening kickoff in that game, senior wide receiver Evan Spurlin-Renfroe dislocated his left knee on a non-contact play. 

Without the team’s second leading receiver in terms of yardage, the Gladiators easily won 48-12, but it was a completely different story one week later as they were nearly stifled on offense in a 44-7 loss at Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium. Gahr, which fell to 3-2 at the midway point of the season, was limited to under 100 yards of total offense, and senior running back Kalen Montgomery, who entered the contest averaging 161 yards a game, gained 48 yards on 17 carries.

“We found out tonight that we have to throw the football,” said Gahr head coach Greg Marshall. “We just can’t give it to Kalen all night. We’re going to have to throw the football down the field.”

But the injuries didn’t stop with Spurlin-Renfroe as junior offensive lineman Cameron Frossard left the Crean Luteran game with an ankle injury four plays in. Another four plays later, senior quarterback Frank Williams was intercepted by Ben Byszewski at the Saints 17-yard line. Fortunately for the Gladiators, the Empire League opponent from Irvine couldn’t cash in and they closed out the opening quarter on a nine-play drive. But on the third play of the second quarter, junior quarterback Noah Hernandez had his 43-yard field goal attempt blocked. This time, the Saints would capitalize and engineered a 16-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Taurian Nash scoring from a yard out with 3:38 left in the half.

That was the beginning of a series of events that told the story of the contest. Gahr was forced to punt after the touchdown but decided to go for a fake and Williams had his pass go incomplete, setting up Crean Lutheran at Gahr’s 25-yard line. Four plays later, Connor Stephens was true on a 36-yard field goal attempt. If that wasn’t bad enough, junior Markell Slaughter’s 35-yard return on the ensuing kickoff put Gahr at its 47-yard line. But a fumble on the next play was scooped up by Anthony Jones who went 42 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 17-0 halftime lead.

“They got the ball back and they got [one] fourth down play and then they scored,” said Marshall of the long drive. “We got the ball back and kind of screwed it up. We went for a fake punt and didn’t execute. There was a span of two or three minutes, and the game was over.

“They weren’t knocking us off the ball, but they were keeping the ball,” he later said of the long drive. “I think the problem was when the game was tied, and we could have punted it, and we went for the fake and we stopped them. They get the field goal, then we went for the pass, and we fumbled it and they scored.”

Gahr ran 24 plays in the half and gained 86 yards, but it would be completely different in the second half. Justin Dominguez ran on the first six plays of the second half, picking up 26 yards. But the hosts would immediately get the ball back at Crean Lutheran’s 25-yard line when senior cornerback Ahmeer Barner returned an interception 62 yards.

The Gladiators would cash in on the miscue when Montgomery scored from a yard out with 5:14 left in the third quarter. However, they would run just seven plays the remainder of the game, gaining negative 10 yards, punting twice, and fumbling once. Marshall admitted that after Montgomery’s touchdown, Gahr was not in sync.

“They did a good job of scouting us, and we didn’t do a good job of adjusting to what they were doing,” said Marshall. “They were taking our outside game away and we really didn’t want to have one player on the cutback.

“We wanted them to run the ball,” he later said. “We didn’t load the box; we only had five guys, six guys in the box. So, we were playing pass defense. It was actually perfect because they weren’t tearing us up on the run, but we took their short passing game away.”

Crean Lutheran went up 24-7 on a five-yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Finaly to Ben Buettell, then following a fumble on Gahr’s first play of the ensuing drive, Dominguez made it 31-7 with a one-yard score. After the first touchdown by the Saints, their next 24 points came on a combined 15 plays, consuming 3:58 and involved the fumble return. Crean Lutheran ended the game with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, covering a combined 14 plays and 133 yards.

Besides Montgomery’s season-low performance on the ground, Slaughter gained 29 yards on four carries while Williams was eight of 11 for 22 yards. On defense, junior linebacker Isaiah Portillo had seven and a half tackles while senior defensive end Myles Merchant had five and a half tackles and senior defensive back Gabriel Mariscal-Isleib added another three and a half tackles.

“The other thing is you have to realize, we didn’t have Evan either,” said Marshall. “Obviously, they were playing the run. Now, if we had Evan out there…you’re going to leave Evan one on one out there? Because we only had Markell, they defended him, and they knew we didn’t have another side. That was the big thing, not having Evan.”

Now that the non-league part of Gahr’s schedule is complete, having outscored their opponents 166-132, the Gladiators begin their defense of a shared Mid-Cities League title when they host Bellflower High on Friday. The Buccaneers, and Norwalk High, also shared the inaugural Mid-Cities League crown with Norwalk being promoted to the tougher Gateway League for this season.

Bellflower doubled up Gahr 40-20 last season for its second win in five games over the Gladiators since 2004. The Buccaneers enter this contest with a 3-3 mark and like Gahr, has a high-scoring offense. They outlasted Whittier High 44-29 last Friday night and two weeks before that, blasted Centennial High of Compton 84-0. Bellflower’s other victory was a season-opening 27-22 win over Garden Grove High, which edged Gahr 49-47 earlier in the season.

The Bucs run the double wing with success, led by Marvin Williams, who had 729 yards on 76 carries and eight touchdowns before the Whittier game. Through the first five games, Bellflower had rushed for 1,549 yards and 20 touchdowns and were averaging just over 350 yards per game. For all intense purposes, the winner of this game has the inside track of winning the league.

“Oh, it’s going to be another physical game,” said Marshall. “They’re going to run the double wing and if we can’t figure out how to throw the football a little bit, it’s going to be rough because you’re just not going to give the ball to Kalen 30 times, especially if our line is beaten up.”