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CIF STATE DIVISION 6-AA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGIONALS – Cerritos overpowered by Wasco’s double wing offense in low-scoring affair

Cerritos High senior running back Josh Park scores from five yards out in last Friday’s CIF State Division 6-AA Southern California Regional contest. The Dons would fall to Wasco High 7-6, ending their season at 9-6. PHOTO BY DAVE KY

December 6, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

In Cerritos High’s magical 2023 football season, it was shutout twice and held to under 20 points two other times, including its 19-13 thrilling overtime victory over Yucca Valley High on Nov. 25 for the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 championship. With two more wins needed before claiming the ultimate top prize, a CIF State championship, the Dons picked the worst time to have one of their worst performances of the season. 

The Dons haven’t faced too many teams that operate the double wing offense, but last Friday in the CIF State Division 6-AA Southern California Regionals, their dreams of playing for a state title were dashed as they were clipped by Wasco High 7-6. Cerritos concludes its best season in the history of the program at 9-6.

“They executed and we didn’t,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Demel Franklin. “That’s it; it’s as simple as that. We could not move the ball; we could not get first downs. Dumb penalties that we stubbed our toe and dropped passes…everything that could go wrong went wrong. Other than us turning the ball over, we could not move the ball. And then our defense was on the field all night. It was the offense that lost the game.”

Cerritos High senior cornerback Ruben Ligorria (#10) and junior linebacker Nathaniel Crawford combine to take down Noah Lopez of Wasco High in last Friday’s CIF State Division 6-AA Southern California Regional game. Cerritos lost 7-6, ending its season at 9-6. PHOTO BY DAVE KY.

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“It’s a huge moment for the school,” said Wasco head coach Chad Martinez. “Wasco is a football town. It’s a huge moment, not just for myself, not for the team, but the town and community. They give us so much support and it just means it’s going to mean a whole lot bringing the first ever regional championship back home.”

Cerritos had half a dozen first downs in the first half, but two in the second half. It was limited to 161 offensive yards, the third fewest yards this season and sixth time it had been held to under 200 yards. After beginning the game with a three and out and holding the Tigers to 20 yards on seven plays in their first possession of the game, the Dons had their best drive of the game, ending the first quarter on an eight-play, 67-yard drive that consumed 4:31. Senior running back Josh Park then began the second quarter with a pair of five-yard runs, the second accounting for the team’s only score of the night. However, the extra point would be blocked. Up to that point, Cerritos had gained 80 yards, but would be limited to 81 yards on 23 plays in nearly 35 minutes of game action.

“They caught us in a scheme that was advantageous to them, and they were able to just run it down,” said Martinez. “We didn’t have an answer. We were able to circle the wagons and make it to the second half by just allowing them to score once.”

The Cerritos defense, which has been spectacular more times than not this season, especially in the playoffs by getting timely stops in key moments, was doing its part in the second quarter, even though the Tigers were putting together a long drive following Park’s touchdown. Mike Dominguez, Noah Lopez, Ramiro Lopez and Amaiez Marquez combined to run the ball 11 times for 53 yards. However three times, the Dons stopped them for no yards, including fourth and two from the Cerritos 27-yard line. 

After the Dons were stopped on downs with 1:42 left in the first half, the Tigers were hoping to get something going before halftime. But David Manzo was sacked on consecutive plays by sophomore linebacker Bailey Crawford for a four-yard loss, then by senior linebacker Jeremiah Bagaygay for an eight-yard loss.

“It was going our way defensively,” said Franklin. “Offensively, it still was [going our way]. We put up six points; they blocked the extra point. That’s not in our plan. In the second half, we were going to try to do some things; throw the ball a little bit. But trying to overcome [the penalties] was a lot. We just weren’t able to stay ahead of the chase.”

However, teams can only slow down a double wing offense for so long and Wasco upped its game to begin the second half. Starting at its own 20-yard line, Wasco used short runs to move the ball downfield, converting on fourth and one from the 29-yard line, then getting a 10-yard pass play from Manzo to Daniel Hulsey on third and eight from the 33-yard line. Later in the drive, Dominguez picked up eight yards on third and one from the Cerritos 36-yard line. When it was all said and done, the Tigers had put together an 18-play, 79-yard drive that lasted 9:18, ending when Noah Lopez cashed in from two yards out.

“I’m looking at them and I’m watching them, and they were just driving,” said Franklin. “Everything was four-down territory. We just couldn’t get it right tonight.”

“We changed our defensive alignment,” said Martinez. “We worked on the fronts specifically for them and it didn’t work. So, when something doesn’t work, you go back to the basics, and we went back to our base defense. We just played fast and lights out.

“That’s Wasco football,” he later added. “That’s what we preach here at the University of Wasco, as we call it. We’re used to drives like that and it wears on you. We say we’re like a heavyweight boxer who just throws body punches.”

To add insult to injury, the Dons went three and out on their next two possessions, gaining a mere three yards on three running plays, coupled with three incomplete passes from sophomore quarterback Justin Sagun. While that was going on, the defense forced two punts despite gaining 30 yards on a dozen plays to still keep the offense in the game.

Cerritos would get the ball back at their own 10-yard line with 2:01 left in the contest and on the third play of the drive, got a huge 16-yard reception from junior wide receiver John Lim on third and eight. After an unsportsmanlike penalty on Wasco, junior wide receiver Dikshanta Adhikari caught a five yard pass and after a timeout with 66 seconds left, Lim hauled in a 10-yard pass play, putting the Dons at the Wasco 44-yard line. But Sagun threw three straight incomplete passes and a fumble on fourth down ended the game.

Noah Lopez led Wasco with 77 yards on 21 carries while Ramiro Lopez added 41 yards on eight carries and Dominguez another 39 yards on a dozen touches. The Tigers rushed 46 times for 178 yards and controlled the clock for nearly 35 minutes. Park had a game-high 87 yards on 13 carries while Sagun was six of 15 for 51 yards. On defense, junior linebacker Nathaniel Crawford had six and a half tackles while sophomore linebacker Tyler Ky added six tackles. Senior linebacker Gabe Gaudi and senior cornerback Ruben Ligorria each chipped in with five and a half tackles.

“He’s a great kid; amazing,” said Franklin of Park. “I wish he still had another year. He give us everything he has on offense, defense and special teams. He always wants the ball; he always wants to block, and he wants to do everything. I’m so sad he’s leaving.”

“[Sophomore tackle Kris Ozoagu] is an absolute dude,” said Martinez. “Their big running back, [junior Josiah Ungos] is a dude. We knew their quarterback was shifty. [Adhikari] was a big concern for us and they have athletes. They have size and they have speed. There’s just so many things they do well, and we were concerned. I was sweating all day.”

Now that the Dons have put those winless league seasons and fifth and sixth place league finishes behind them, they can look forward to bigger and better things, knowing that they are not only a threat in the 605 League, but contenders to make deep runs in the playoffs, regardless of what division the CIF-SS puts them in.

“Oh, it’s bright,” said Franklin of the future. “As you can see, we’re really young; we had probably five seniors that played a significant amount of time. I have a ton a sophomores, and a ton of juniors. So, we’re going to be back stronger next year. We’re going to run faster, lift harder and be smarter and execute.”