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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 12 QUARTERFINALS – Cerritos defense in first quarter paves the way in historic win over Western Christian 

Cerritos High junior cornerback Ruben Castro is off to the races late in the first quarter against Western Christian High as he intercepts a Jared Doolittle pass and returns it 50 yards to the house. Cerritos led 21-0 after the pick six and went on to stun the Fighting Lancers 55-44 last Friday in a CIF-Southern Section Divisional 12 quarterfinal game. PHOTO COURTESY OF J.B. QUIBRANTAR .

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

UPLAND-It takes one play to put a charge in a team for the rest of the game and for Cerritos High, that one play came on the opening kickoff of its CIF-Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal game at Western Christian High. Junior Dikshanta Adhikari returned the kickoff 53 yards and after being pushed back five yards on a false start infraction, the Dons scored on the next play.

After that, Cerritos stunned the home crowd, scoring on its next possession, then getting a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown in a matter of eight seconds late in the stanza. When the dust had settled, Cerritos pulled off a 55-44 win last Friday at Dr. Harold K. Sider Field, sending the Dons into the semifinals for the first time in school history.

“For a change, we took the ball,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Demel Franklin. “We normally defer the kick and put it on our defense. But we knew they had an electric offense, and I didn’t want to give them a chance to go in and score, and then it’s on us. We are very physical, and we wanted to challenge them to see how we would do. I think we did pretty well.”

“I’m speechless,” said senior Josh Park. “Who would have thought we would go to round three this year, especially in my last year? So, it was very exciting.”

Western Christian entered the game having scored 437 points through 11 games and finished the season gaining close to 472 yards a game. But it was the Cerritos offense that was putting up the points early and often. With the 605 League champions starting at the Western Christian 19-yard line, sophomore quarterback Justin Sagun went around the left side and scored just 17 seconds into the contest. After the defense forced three incomplete passes by Jared Doolittle, it took three plays for Cerritos to make it 14-0 as Sagun again went to his left and scored on an eight-yard run.

From left to right, Cerritos High sophomore linebacker Tyler Ky, sophomore cornerback Michael Quibrantar and sophomore linebacker Jacob Hoosac team up to tackle Jeffrey Jackson of Western Christian High in last Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal contest. Cerritos pulled off a 55-44, advancing to the semifinals for the first time in school history. PHOTO COURTESY OF J.B. QUIBRANTAR.

With 3:28 left in the quarter, the Fighting Lancers got ball back after recovering a fumble and following an incomplete pass and a four-yard run from Doolittle, he had his seventh pass of the game tipped and land in the waiting hands of junior cornerback Ruben Castro, who scampered 50 yards for a touchdown. 

The early scoring barrage didn’t stop there as a fumble on the ensuing kickoff was scooped up by junior Nathaiel Crawford, who went a mere 16 yards for a shocking and surprising 28-0 lead before the quarter had reached the 10-minute mark. To put that into perspective, the Fighting Lancers had not allowed 28 points in the first quarter all season. The most they had allowed in the first quarter was 23 against Maranatha High on Sept. 15. 

With great blocking up front, Cerritos High junior running back Dikshanta Adhikari finds a hole where he scores from five yards out in the fourth quarter of last Friday’s 55-44 win at Western Christian High in a CIF-Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal game. Adhikari gained 80 yards on 13 carries and was one of three Cerritos running backs to gain at least 70 yards. PHOTO COURTESY OF J.B. QUIBRANTAR.

“Our defense set the tone in the first quarter,” said Park. “That’s what we like, and then our offense fed off that energy and we just scored a lot in the first quarter, too.”

Western Chrisitan got its first points just over two minutes into the second quarter when Doolittle, who had thrown for 37 touchdowns on the season entering the contest, hooked up with J.J. Hooper for a 35-yard connection. On the next drive, the Dons (7-5), chewed up 6:03 off the clock by gaining 89 yards on 10 plays, ending with a three-yard score from junior running back Josiah Ungos. With nearly four minutes remaining in the half, Cerritos was up 35-6, however, considering what type of offense Western Christian had, Franklin knew the game was far from over. 

“I didn’t expect it to go that way,” said Franklin. “I thought there would be fireworks from the beginning. The fact that we stopped them on the first drive of the game gave our offense more confidence, and then we went out and scored again and we were on fire. In the second half, they figured out some things and defensively, we were on our heels the whole second half. It was very surprising and shocking, but I’ll take that surprise.”

Sagun completed the only two passes he would throw for 20 yards while senior Julian Morales had a 29-yard pass to Castro as all three passes came in the first half. But the extent of the Cerritos offense would lie in its running game as Adhikari, Park, Sagun and Ungos combined for 117 yards on 22 carries in the half while Western Christian had picked up 122 yards with Doolittle completing seven of 19 passes for 90 yards. 

Even with the score 35-6 with two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin was concerned with the penalty situation where the Dons were hurting themselves, being flagged nine times for 75 yards, including consecutive personal foul penalties before a snap was taken that took the ball from the Western Christian 27-yard line to the Cerritos 46-yard line right after Ungos scored. The Fighting Lancers were forced to punt on the drive, but Franklin was still displeased with the yellow laundry all over the field, forcing him to send a stern message during his halftime speech.

“I told them to clean up the penalties,” said Franklin. “We had a lot of dumb penalties; holding, false start and we’re talking, which I hated. I yelled at them and used some choice language to have them shut their mouths. That was my speech.”

Western Christian had two possessions in the third quarter, the first lasting 3:12 and resulted in a Doolittle to Darryl Booker 25-yard touchdown pass. After Cerritos answered with a four-yard score from Park exactly four minutes later, the hosts, who play on a field that gives the visiting team, and the chain crew just three and a half yards from the sideline to the back of a fence to maneuver through, were stopped on downs. At the Cerritos 49-yard line, Doolittle was looking for Hooper, but the ball was knocked down by sophomore cornerback Michael Quibrantar on fourth and 16.

With the Dons up 41-12 with 11:04 remaining, the game would move in a faster mode, compliments to Doolittle and his receiving corps of Booker, Hooper, Jeffrey Jackson, and Elijah Vasquez. Through the first three quarters, Doolittle was 12 of 29 for 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but in the final 11:04, he had better numbers.

It started with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Hooper and with a two-point conversion from Doolittle, it was 41-20 with 10:18 left. Cerritos came back with an Adhikari five-yard score. But Booker’s 38-yard kickoff return helped set up a Doolittle to Hooper 18-yard touchdown play and with another two-point conversion, it was 48-28 with 7:14 left in the game. The Fighting Lancers would recover an onside kick, which led to a 32-yard scoring pass from Doolittle to Vasquez four plays later.

But Cerritos refused to lift the foot off the gas pedal as a failed onside kick gave the Dons a short field where Adhikari’s 10-yard gain led to a 20-yard touchdown run from Park and with 5:59 left in the game, it was 55-36. The final touchdown of the game came with 2:17 remaining, a short two-yard pass from Doolittle to Vasquez, plus a two-point conversion from the signal caller who began the game with close to 3,000 yards through the air. 

“We wanted to push and keep scoring because we want to go to that round three,” said Park. “So, we kept driving and we kept scoring. [Our approach] was to keep moving and not get your guard down. It was close towards the end, but our defense stayed in, and our offense kept pushing.”

“We knew they score in the blink of an eye,” said Franklin. “They were just scoring left and right, left and right and we were playing the clock. One thing I knew, they couldn’t stop us. I had that confidence that they were not going to stop us all night. I knew that.”

Doolittle finished the game 25 of 47 and had career-highs with 434 yards and six touchdowns while Hooper caught eight passes for 220 yards. For the Dons, Park gained 96 yards on 14 carries while Adhikari had 80 yards on 13 carries and Ungos another 71 yards on 16 touches. Senior linebacker and safety Gabe Gaudi led the defensive charge with a dozen tackles while Crawford had 11 tackles and junior Devyn Chantha another five tackles.

“I go into no game thinking we’re going to lose,” said Franklin. “I breed confidence and I want the kids to feel that. We’ve done a lot of hard work and I know what we have. A lot of people will look at our record, but you have to look at the score of those games. We were in every one of those games.”

Now, Cerritos will face a tougher task on Friday when it hosts Coachella Valley High for the right to play for the program’s first divisional championship. The Mighty Arabs (that is their official mascot as approved by the Coachella Valley Unified School District in 2014), who defeated Don Lugo High 52-35 last Friday, are 10-2 and the top-ranked team in the division. They have won five straight games and have scored 513 points this season. Coachella Valley’s lone losses were to Xavier Prep (14-7) in the first game of the season and to Yucca Valley High (69-45) on Oct. 5. 

All 10 regular season opponents have been against desert teams, including one against Las Vegas-based El Dorado High on Sept. 8. Coachella Valley’s travels during the regular season in the state have been to Blythe, Cathedral City, Indio, Palm Desert, and Yucca Valley. 

The heart and soul of the Mighty Arabs offense lies in Aaron Ramirez, who has rushed for 1,979 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. The only other player to reach triple digits on the ground is Ivan Camargo, who has gained 504 yards in 60 carries with eight touchdowns.

Quarterback Derek Calderon is 116 of 200 for 1,874 yards with 23 touchdowns but has been picked off seven times and his top targets are Miguel Rodriguez (55 receptions, 890 yards, 13 touchdowns), Ramirez (25 receptions, 506 yards, four touchdowns) and Ernesto Rocio (14 receptions, 247 yards, four touchdowns). 

The team is averaging over 400 yards a game but on defense Coachella Valley has allowed at least 20 points in eight games, has sacked opposing quarterbacks 15 times from nine players and has a dozen interceptions from seven players.

The seven victories are the most for the Dons since 2001 when they went 9-2 overall and were tri-champions of the old Suburban League. The message from Franklin as far as his team’s approach this week in practice is the same one as his halftime speech last Friday. Cerritos ended up with 13 accepted penalties for 120 yards while Western Christian had 14 accepted penalties for 120 yards. 

“That killed us,” said Franklin. “In a tighter game, we lose the game, and probably get blown out. So, that’s what we’re going to clean up on Monday. I’m going to penalize them myself on Monday and we’re going to run a lot.”