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CIF-SS DIV. 12 FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP – Adhikari, Sagun supply late game heroics as Cerritos captures first football championship

The Cerritos High football team celebrates the program’s first CIF-Southern Section divisional championship in the sport after rallying for a 19-13 overtime victory over Yucca Valley High last Saturday night. The Dons are Division 12 champions. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.

November 27, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Considering how the Cerritos High football team had outscored its past three opponents in the first half 77-6, a defensive tussle in the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 championship game wouldn’t have been thought of. While the Dons had to stave off fourth quarter rallies each time in the playoffs, it would be the opposite on the biggest stage in the history of the Cerritos football program.

In their 19-13 overtime victory over Yucca Valley High last Saturday night at Atkins Stadium on the Artesia High campus, the Dons ran 14 plays in the first half, gaining just a measly four yards, turned the ball over twice but was down a touchdown to the Trojans. But, in the final 6:07 of the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback Justin Sagun found junior running back/wide receiver Dikshanta Adhikari for a pair of touchdowns to send the game into overtime. There, after the Trojans were stopped at the 14-yard line, Sagun tossed a short three-yard pass to senior Jeremiah Bagaygay, who was wide open in the left side of the end zone to give the program, and the City of Cerritos a historic victory.

With the Desert Valley League champions up 13-6 with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter, the Dons got the ball at their own 25-yard line. After a pair of plays totaling 15 yards, Sagun threw three straight incomplete passes before first-year head coach Demel Franklin called his final timeout with 1:20 remaining.

“We just needed to score,” said Adhikari. “We had to get it together, play together and just score. That’s all that was said. [Franklin] just expected us to score and we went out and did it.”

Coming out of the timeout, Sagun connected with Adhikari for a 27-yard gain on fourth and 10, then a 15-yard play and finally a 13-yard touchdown pass with 30.7 seconds remaining. Adhikari found himself wide open on the left side, but the play was intended for Sagun to roll out to his right. However, Yucca Valley sent its linebackers all the way out, forcing Sagun to go the opposite direction where he found Adhikari. Franklin said he wanted Sagun to throw backside and find senior running back/wide receiver Josh Park, but instead saw Adhikari on the opposite side of the end zone.

Cerritos High junior Dikshanta Adhikari approaches the end zone for the first of his two touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter of last Saturday night’s 19-13 overtime victory over Yucca Valley High in the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 championship game. Adhikari scored from 27 yards out midway through the quarter, then tied the game with 30.7 seconds left in regulation. PHOTO BY J.B. QUIBRANTAR.

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“It was just a game of chicken,” said Franklin. “They were daring us to throw the ball and we started throwing the ball. We knew they were not going to cover us. I could have gone to that earlier, but if one thing goes the wrong way, then we’re now chasing 21 points. It was kind of designed to keep it close and I just had to pray that it was going to work out in the end.”

“[Sagun] had to scramble and do what he did,” said Adhikari. “He threw me up a great ball in the end zone and I caught it for the touchdown and celebrated with the team. That’s it.”

The game started in the most ominous way for the Dons, who have now won seven straight games. Their first four plays went for negative yardage and when the scoreless first quarter ended, the 605 League champions had minus seven yards on eight plays. But the Trojans were struggling as well, running eight plays and getting 13 yards in the fast-moving stanza that took 16 minutes of actual time to complete.

The pace picked up in the second quarter and on third and five from the Yucca Valley 43-yard line, sophomore linebacker Bailey Crawford sacked Michael Ramos Jr. for a six-yard loss, forcing the Trojans to punt. Four plays later, on the ensuing Cerritos possession, Walker Rauschenberg recovered a fumble near midfield and Yucca Valley went 51 yards to put the first points on the board, a one-yard sneak from Ramos Jr.

The drive, which lasted five and a half minutes, was extended when Cerritos was offside on fourth and seven as Anthony Morando was lining up for a potential 28-yard field goal. Then on the next play after the touchdown, Rauschenberg picked off sophomore quarterback Julian Morales and the Trojans ran out the clock to end the half.

Even though the Cerritos defense was doing its job, holding Yucca Valley to 80 yards 30 plays, most of them rushing plays, the Dons were still stymied with four yards on 14 plays, punting three times and turning the ball over twice. Cerritos had one first down in the half and got as far as the Yucca Valley 40-yard line.

“So, it was me being hesitant to throw the ball,” said Franklin. “I knew coming in, and I told my staff, that we were going to throw the ball on these dudes. We were going to take chances. When we threw that interception, it made me a little gun shy. We could have thrown the ball all night if that’s what we wanted to do, but I wanted to try to be conservative and keep it tight.

“We saw they were just putting all their attention on [our running backs],” he later said. “It’s cool; we would use them as decoys, and we would run everybody off that. That’s why [senior running back/wide receiver Josh] Park had big plays and Dikshanta had big plays.”

“It was most definitely a different game,” said Adhikari. “Every game, we had no trouble against running the ball. We would run; me, Josh, back to back to back. No backs in the backfield were tired. But we came out this game, started passing more and that started to work too. We were just able to come out for the win.”

Three plays into the second half, senior Diego Martinez intercepted Ramos Jr. But Cerritos couldn’t take advantage as senior Moises Mendoza was wide left on a 39-yard field goal attempt with 7:41 left in the stanza.

After both teams traded punts, the Trojans closed out the quarter by going 47 yards on seven plays, covering the final 3:36. The key play of the drive was Bagaygay sacking Ramos Jr. for an eight-yard loss on third and eight from the 15-yard line. That forced Caden Beasly to try a 33-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, which was short.

Cerritos High senior linebacker Gabe Gaudi stops Stephon Rogers of Yucca Valley High on third and six near midfield in the third quarter of last Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 12 championship game. Cerritos rallied for a 19-13 overtime win, the first football divisional championship in school history. PHOTO BY J.B. QUIBRANTAR.

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“We were contemplating switching to a different [defensive] front because they started kind of getting some consistent runs,” said Franklin. “But [Nathan] Endo believed in what he was doing and that’s my defensive coordinator.”

Cerritos continued to pick up more steam, converting a key play on fourth and four from its 38-yard line when a missed tackle allowed Park to take a short reception from Sagun and turn it into a 37-yard gain. Four plays later, Adhikari’s 27-yard touchdown reception put Cerritos on the board, although the extra point was missed. The Trojans came right back and extended their lead to 13-6 when leading rusher Myles Harper, who entered the game with over 1,700 yards, galloped 50 yards for a touchdown. But junior cornerback John Lim blocked the extra point, giving the Dons hope with just under three minutes left and a pair of timeouts.

In overtime, Myles had runs of 10 yards and one yard before Ramos Jr. threw three straight incomplete passes from the 14-yard line, all towards the left side of the end zone. Cerritos got the ball at the 25-yard line and Park immediately gained 12 yards. Adhikari followed that with a three-yard gain, then Park had runs of a yard, six yards and no yards before the game-winning touchdown.

“We’re down there and I see [Yucca Valley] loading the box,” said Franklin. “I told Sagun, once everyone got into the huddle, run a bootleg, fake the handoff, and run left and hit Bagaygay. Tell him to just touch the end and run to the corner. I said you could run or throw; I don’t care, but he’s going to be wide open.”

Yucca Valley, which won the Division XI title in 1996, was seeking its second title. Harper led everyone with 170 yards on 25 carries while Stephon Rogers added 59 yards on a dozen touches. Ramos Jr. completed five passes for eight yards and was sacked twice. 

“He’s a lot tougher than what I thought,” said Franklin of Harper. ‘We met him at the [CIF-SS] luncheon [last Monday] and I saw that he wasn’t that big. But he’s a very tough kid on both sides of the ball. I tip my hat off to them.”

“They just started out fast,” said Adhikari. “We came here to play, for sure. But they came out with a little more energy than we expected them to. But we went into the halftime, made a few adjustments, came out and got our offense to start getting on all [cylinders]. We started running the ball and throwing a little bit and stuff started to work.”

Sagun was 12 of 17 for 158 yards with Adhikari catching five passes for 94 yards. Park had three catches for 45 yards and Lim two more for 22 yards. Defensively, Bagaygay and sophomore linebacker Tyler Ky each had five and a half tackles while senior linebacker Gabe Gaudi and sophomore linebacker Jacob Hoosac each had five tackles.

The Dons will host Wasco High on Friday in the CIF State Southern California Division 6-AA Regionals with the winner to face either Palo Alto High or St. Vincent de Paul High the following week for the state championship.

“I don’t even know how to feel right now,” said Adhikari, who moved to Cerritos when he got into middle school. “I’ll go home and definitely look back at this moment. 

“It just feels unreal; we’ve been dreaming about this moment for so long,” he continued. “Now we’re finally living it and hard work got us here. We ran the ball hard; we played hard both sides of the ball. We just came out and played.”