Nelson Jatico, at 5-4, was the hardest player to find in the huddle Friday. But he was the easiest to spot on the field.
On a day when Jatico’s team, Eagle Rock High, managed only 18 yards on 19 carries, Jatico had 232.
Two hundred thiry-two?
Jatico electrified an Eagle Rock crowd with three dazzling punt returns to power the Eagles to a 20-7 upset over Sylmar.
Jatico, who had never scored a touchdown in high school, had returns of 92, 85 and 55 yards--the Eagles’ only touchdowns--to set a school record.
“We owe them a little something,” Eagle Rock Coach Dennis Shaw had said earlier, pointing to a 35-0 loss to Sylmar last year.
And the “little something” came in the form of the Jatico.
“I didn’t have the grades to play last year,” the junior said. “This year I just wanted to get the job done.”
Held scoreless with only 46 total yards by a tough Sylmar defense, the Eagle Rock offense was lucky that Jatico reported to work.
“If we can come through with our line, then we shouldn’t have too much trouble. I’m a defense man,” said Sylmar Coach Tom Richards, known by his players as “Dr. Defense.”
Richards’ defense performed brilliantly, holding Eagle Rock to five plays or less on every possession and only four first downs. But the doctor could have prescribed a better plan for his Spartan punting team, which could not clip the wings of the high-flying Jatico.
Jatico’s first punt return came with just 58 seconds left in the first quarter. He fielded the ball on the Eagle Rock 15 and ran untouched 85 yards. Greg Sanford’s PAT made the score 7-0.
Sylmar senior Michael Hampton made the first of his two interceptions off quarterback Mitch Gravino with 2:45 left in the half to set up a 35-yard Spartan drive, capped by Marc Cisneros’ 19-yard touchdown catch from Shawn Fontenot. Cisneros crashed into the goal post in full stride but wasn’t hurt. Richard Hetherington added the PAT, tying the score just 13 seconds before halftime.
Jatico’s second touchdown--a 92-yard return--came with 6:39 left in the third quarter. Four Sylmar penalties had backed the Spartans up to the Eagle Rock 39. Jatico dashed down the left sideline--again without interference--to make it 14-7.
Jason Duncan sacked Fontenot twice early in the fourth quarter to set up Jatico’s final punt return, a 55-yarder with six minutes left in the game. A penalty nullified the PAT.
Eagle Rock is 1-1 while Sylmar fell to 0-2.