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Chaminade advances to state Division II bowl game

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When it comes to preparing their team for a rematch few coaches do it better than West Hills Chaminade's Ed Croson and Saturday night's CIF state regional Division II championship bowl game provided the latest example.

Eight days after avenging a Mission League setback to Gardena Serra to capture their first Southern Section football title, the Eagles reversed a Sept. 6 loss to Newhall Hart with a 28-10 victory at College of the Canyons that earned them a spot in the CIF state Division II bowl game Saturday afternoon at StubHub Center in Carson. 

Chaminade will play undefeated Redding Enterprise, a 27-21 winner over Manteca in Saturday's north regional game. 

Colorado commit Donovan Lee, who scored four touchdowns last week against Serra and three in the first game against Hart, had 63 yards rushing, a two-point conversion run and a 41-yard punt return Saturday. Miami-bound quarterback Brad Kaaya completed eight of 16 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown for the visiting Eagles (13-2), ranked fifth in California by Cal-Hi Sports.

"Our defense was unbelievable tonight," Croson said. "We ran the ball because we were having some trouble throwing, but our focus was playing better on defense. They got one on us at the end, but besides that we played very well and I think Hart was banged up. They weren't as physical as they were the first time, but they play great football up here in the Santa Clarita Valley."   

Four plays after losing a fumble on offense, Lee scooped up a fumble by Hart quarterback Brady White and returned it 41 yards to the Indians' 20, then caught a 17-yard pass to set up Cory Watkins' three-yard touchdown run that gave Chaminade a 7-0 lead just over two minutes into the game. Andrew Nielsen kicked a 32-yard field goal to pull the Indians within 7-3 later in the quarter.

"I don't think we're the same team and we didn't want a repeat of the last game with them, so we stressed defense," said Lee, who has 41 touchdowns this season. "The fumble return was important because any big play you get swings momentum your way."   

Hart failed to score deep in Eagles territory when Kameron Ramsey blocked Neilsen's 23-yard attempt midway through the second quarter. Brayden Lenius made a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown from Kaaya and Watkins added a one-yard touchdown run to increase the Eagles' lead to 21-3 midway through the third quarter after a 56-yard punt return by Jordan Athey.  

White, who threw for 490 yards and tied school records with 36 completions and seven touchdown passes in the Indians' 55-54 overtime victory in the teams' first meeting, completed 22 of 44 passes for 248 yards with one interception and was sacked six times. Connor Wingenroth, who tied a school record with a 99-yard scoring run in the first meeting, was limited to 39 yards in 17 carries for Northern Division champion Hart (12-3), ranked 19th in the state by Cal-Hi. 

Watkins finished with 109 yards and two touchdowns in 17 carries and Kieran Yancy scored on a 21-yard run late in the fourth quarter for Chaminade. Chase White caught a 21-yard strike from his cousin Brady for Hart's only touchdown with 59 seconds left. Wes Fitzpatrick caught seven passes for 52 yards and Trent Irwin added six catches for 88 yards for the Indians, who had avenged a Foothill League defeat to Valencia with a 28-21 victory to win their ninth section title and seventh under Coach Mike Herrington. 

"Ultimately, it was our own mistakes that killed us," Brady White said. "If we played anywhere near the way we did on offense last time we would've won this game, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. They blitzed a little more and sometimes they had good coverage, but I also missed some throws. I'm really proud of our defense for keeping us in it."    

Croson coached Lake Balboa Birmingham to playoff victories over West Valley League rival Woodland Hills Taft In 2002 and 2004 after the Toreadors had beaten Birmingham in the regular season. 

"Our approach [this week] will be the same as last week," Lee said. "The past is the past and we'll come in Monday morning, watch film and prepare as best we can." 

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