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605 LEAGUE FOOTBALL – Cerritos gains inside track for third straight league title as defense carries Dons over Artesia

Cerritos High junior wide receiver Ruben Castro celebrates his 16-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Julian Morales in the third quarter of last Thursday’s 27-7 win over Artesia High. The pass interference call of declined as the Dons are sitting all alone in first place in the 605 League. Castro caught a pair of 16-yard passes and rushed twice for 63 yards. PHOTO BY ROXY LIGORRIA.

October 23, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Since the inception of the 605 League at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, two schools have been consistent when it comes to their football programs advancing to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. With two automatic berths coming out of the four-team league (Oxford Academy and Whitney High do not field football teams), Artesia High and Cerritos High have combined for five of the eight playoff spots with the two claiming a league title in three of the four non-Covid seasons.

A share of at least this season’s league crown was on the line when Artesia hosted Cerritos last Thursday night and what was expected to be a back and forth contest turned out to be a one-sided affair as the visiting Dons came up with a 27-7 victory. Cerritos improved to 4-5 overall and undefeated in two league contests as it can go for its third straight outright league title with a win at Pioneer High on Thursday in the regular season finale. Artesia fell to 5-4, 1-1 and will host John Glenn High on Thursday with the winner claiming second place outright.

The numbers favored Artesia entering the contest as it was tied for the league lead with 255 points scored and had yielded a league low 146 points. But after a scoreless first quarter, it was looking more towards a defensive game for one, or even both combatants.

“Defensively, we’ve tried a bunch of different things with a bunch of different guys,” said first-year head coach Demel Franklin. “When they get in the game, if it’s out of hand one way or another, then we’re going to see dome young guys. but no matter what, they’re going to play their butt off and they’re going to hit and they’re going to chase that ball down.”

The Dons drew first blood on the first play of the second quarter as junior Ruben Castro got loose for a 61-yard touchdown run. Although the extra point was blocked, the momentum game had started. The scoring drive began at the Cerritos 16-yard line with three straight runs of at least 10 yards, the latter being a 12-yard gain from senior running back Josh Park as he took a pitch from sophomore quarterback Justin Sagun and went around the right side.

Cerritos High sophomore linebacker Tyler Ky tackles Artesia High junior running back Julius Padilla in the first quarter of last Thursday’s pivotal 605 League contest. Cerritos won 27-7 to move into first place outright with one more game remaining in the regular season. Ky had a game-high eight and a half tackles. PHOTO BY ROXY LIGORRIA.


When Artesia got the ball back, it engineered the longest drive of the night by either team, going 59 yards on 17 plays and taking nearly 10 minutes off the clock. It ended with junior running back Julius Padilla scoring from two yards out on third and goal with 1:53 left in the half. Even with a one-point lead at the half, the Pioneers still struggled offensively, gaining 85 yards in the half and seeing the league’s leading rusher at the time, junior quarterback Charlie Lopez, held to 26 yards on nine carries.

“I think we’re still a good offensive team,” said Artesia first-year head coach Connor Crook. “I think we can still put points on the board and move the ball. It just wasn’t our night tonight. Things like that happen.

“Our kids played hard,” he continued. “Things just didn’t bounce our way at times or maybe we went the wrong way or just little mistakes that we can fix watching film tomorrow. But they played hard, and they battled. I’m not super worried going forward the rest of the season.”

“We weren’t concerned about [Padilla],” said Franklin. “It was all about [Lopez], and we know they were talking all week; all our kids heard it. So, this was personal. They were calling our guys and saying stuff; they’re all this and they’re so dynamic. That’s great; that just gives us fuel and our defense was up for the challenge.”

The Cerritos offense, which had 113 yards on only 16 plays in the first half, began to pick up some steam in the second half and went up 13-7 on its first drive, which ended with a one-yard run from senior quarterback Julian Morales. After a quick three and out by the Dons defense, Castro caught a 16-yard scoring pass from Morales and with 5:46 left in the third quarter, it was 20-7.

The Pioneers then put together the game’s second longest drive in both plays and time, beginning at their own 20-yard line and using a combination of Lopez and Padilla runs, sprinkled in with a three-yard pass to junior tight end Ahkil Sampson to finish the stanza. But that drive, and the next combined two drives of the fourth quarter ended in punts.

The final score of the night came when Morales found junior wide receiver John Lim for a 48-yard connection with 3:14 left to play.  Cerritos would end the night with 230 yards, including the combination of Morales and Sagun going six of nine for 96 yards. Castro was the leading rusher, albeit 63 yards on two touches. He also caught a pair of passes for 32 yards.

“The offense is still a process,” said Franklin. “You have to remember we have a sophomore quarterback. This is his first year playing varsity. My senior quarterback-this is his first year playing varsity. So, we’re going to take our lumps. Yeah, we’re late in the season, but it’s still their first year. As long as our defense is amazing, they give us chances to make mistakes and come back to correct them.”

“I think it was mistakes on our end and then they came in, obviously, [seeing film on us],” said Crook. “They’ve seen the stats [on Lopez] and so they know that we run the ball, and we’ve been running it pretty well all year. They had a good game plan. But there are little mistakes that we can fix.”

Defensively, Cerritos was led by sophomore linebacker Tyler Ky (eight and a half tackles), junior linebacker Nathaniel Crawford (eight tackles), senior linebacker Jeremiah Bagaygay (seven tackles) and junior linebacker Devyn Chantha (six tackles). As a team, the Dons had 10 tackles for losses. 

“What I always focused on, even when I was a lower level coach, is development,” said Franklin. “What I noticed when we play other teams…they don’t pay attention to [their lower levels]. We pay attention to the lower levels. I’m at every single game with my whole staff and we’re developing and cheering for those kids, and then they come out here on Thursday night at a varsity game and they get to play as well.”

Artesia, which held the ball for 32 minutes, got 63 yards on 25 carries from Padilla and 43 yards on 17 carries from Lopez, who also completed four of six passes for 26 yards. Sophomore linebacker Nehemiah Levu led the defense with two and a half tackles while half a dozen other players all had two tackles. 

“The good news is we still have something to look forward to,” said Crook. “Glenn next week; if we beat Glenn, we have a chance to get in. So that’s mainly what we were talking to them at the end. We really wanted this one; we knew this would probably determine who was going to win league. It didn’t go our way, but we still have a lot to play for.”

Glenn enters the contest with a 6-3 overall record after it defeated Pioneer 28-17 last Friday. Junior running back Tuiono Tuifua rushed for 174 yards on 20 carries and scored once while senior running back Gabriel Vergara gained 54 yards on 10 rushes and scored twice. Tuifua also caught four passes for 81 yards and scored the other touchdown. He takes over the league lead with 1,358 yards on 119 carries and scored 14 touchdowns. Only once has he been held to under 100 yards. One more win will give the Glenn program its most victories in a season in over 25 seasons. The Eagles won six games in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“I think the main problem is their offense,” said Crook of Glenn. “It’s just something we haven’t really seen all year. A lot of the teams we’ve played haven’t really ran the double wing offense. It will be new to us and it’s a short week. But our kids are pretty good at picking things up, especially defensively.”

The Dons will be facing a struggling Pioneer team that has scored a league low 127 points and has allowed a league high 255 points. The Titans are on a five-game losing streak and their best game has been a 21-7 win over Gabrielino Sept. 15. However, the teams have split the last eight meetings with Cerritos winning the last three after Pioneer won the previous three.

“I saw when they played Artesia last week, they ran a lot of Wildcat [offense],” said Franklin. “That team was running the ball. Also, they ran trick plays and passes. So, we have our hands full of them as well. But as long as our defense plays like they’ve been playing, then we have a great shot of beating them.”