It took strong performances by 3 Canyon High running backs and a bullish offensive line before the visiting Cowboys finally nullified the big-play threat of Hawthorne quarterback Curtis Conway.
Rallying for 3 second-half touchdowns, Canyon (10-2) recorded a 29-14 victory Friday night in a Southern Section Division II quarterfinal at Hawthorne. It was the Cowboys’ 10th consecutive win and advances them to next week’s semifinal against Buena, a 7-6 winner Friday over Muir in another quarterfinal.
That game will feature a match-up of Canyon Coach Harry Welch and Buena’s Rick Scott, the former coach at Hart, Canyon’s Santa Clarita Valley rival.
Conway, who is being recruited by several Division I colleges, most notably USC, rambled and scrambled all over the field, running 50 yards for a touchdown and returning an interception for another score as the Cougars built a 14-7 halftime lead.
But thanks to the Canyon backfield trio of Mark Santos, Robert Leary and especially Chris Peery, Canyon answered the call.
Peery, who wore No. 81 in the first half and played exclusively at tight end, emerged from the locker room with his regular No. 8 and rushed for second-half touchdowns of 21, 6 and 27 yards.
“He changed shirts in a phone booth right over there,” Canyon Coach Harry Welch said jokingly.
Peery, who had not played tailback in 2 weeks because of a sprained ankle, rushed for a game-high 147 yards in 14 carries.
“I was kind of expecting to come in if we were close,” Peery said. “The line was great. It just opened up the holes. I wouldn’t say anybody could have run through, but it was open enough.”
Open enough for Santos to rush for 91 yards in 21 carries and Leary to rush for 103 yards in 12 carries. It was the second game this season in which Peery and Leary both rushed for more than 100 yards.
Canyon totaled 417 total yards to the Cougars’ 167.
Conway, a 6-foot, 2-inch, 185-pound senior, rushed for 51 yards in 5 carries but completed only 4 of 12 passes for 51 yards and 2 interceptions.
“Let’s face it,” Welch said. “They’re faster than we are. With the speed they have and the sloppy field, we just figured we’d go right at ‘em. It was, ‘OK, you’re faster and quicker, so let’s see how good you really are.’ The best thing we do is play tough football.”
Early in the third quarter, linebacker Brian Zemojtel intercepted a Conway pass and returned it to midfield. Four plays later, Peery ran for his first touchdown for a 14-14 tie.
Peery ran for his second touchdown early in the fourth quarter, then scored a 2-point conversion for a 22-14 lead. Peery’s final touchdown with 2:48 put the game out of reach.
“We thought they were going to run it down our throats,” Hawthorne Coach Goy Casillas said. “Our kids aren’t as strong as Canyon. They bowled us over.”
Canyon shut down Hawthorne’s opening drive in 3 plays, sacking Conway on third and 10.
After a punt, the Cowboys marched 65 yards in 13 plays. Quarterback Rod Baltau, who finished 4 of 13 for 55 yards, sustained the drive with a 25-yard third-down completion to Jason Stanley for a first down at the 6-yard line.
Two plays later, Santos ran 3 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead.
Hawthorne’s Kalvien Latu fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Canyon’s Mat Porcellino recovered at the 17. But the drive stalled and Brian McKie missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt.
After consecutive runs by Ronald Bolden and Brent Floyd produced a first down at midfield, Conway slanted off tackle for a 50-yard touchdown run. Conway’s pass for a 2-point conversion fell incomplete.
Midway through the second quarter, Baltau’s pass over the middle to Peery was tipped and Conway intercepted at the Canyon 38. He raced untouched for a touchdown, then ran for a 2-point conversion and a 14-7 lead.
After an exchange of fumbles, Canyon marched from its 38 to the Cougars’ 15 with less than a minute remaining. Baltau, however threw 3 incomplete passes in the end zone, and McKie’s 32-yard field-goal attempt on the final play was blocked.