Forget all that anguish Canyon Country Canyon football fans have experienced wondering what life would be like without coach Harry Welch.
Yes, he was the genius behind the Cowboys’ winning the state Division I bowl game last season, but Canyon found out Friday night at Notre Dame that finding a replacement for running back J.J. DiLuigi, who had 82 touchdowns the last two seasons, could be a bigger problem.
Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, ranked No. 3 in the Southland by The Times, made four interceptions, recovered a fumble and limited the Cowboys to 48 yards rushing to come away with a 17-7 victory in the head-coaching debut of Canyon’s Chris Varner, 30.
Leading the Knights’ defense was outside linebacker Hayden Hunter, who returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown with 43 seconds left in the third quarter to account for the only scoring of the second half.
“I just went as fast as I could,” said Hunter, who added another interception in the fourth quarter and also recovered a fumble.
Canyon, ranked No. 17, asked a lot of quarterback Sean Gavin, who was the backup last season and had no running game to support him. Gavin completed 15 of 28 passes for 203 yards.
USC-bound defensive tackle Wes Horton had two sacks, deflected a pass that led to an interception and stripped Gavin of the ball for a fumble.
Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist faced a constant pass rush and never got comfortable. He completed 12 of 25 passes for 166 yards.
Notre Dame held a 10-7 halftime lead after Michael Salveson made a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the second quarter.
Two of the best players in the game were receivers.
Canyon’s Stephen Wirthlin, showing much-improved speed, finished with six receptions for 133 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown.
Notre Dame junior James Flynn, a reserve last season, had three catches for 86 yards in the first half.
His contributions were important for a position in which the Knights had to replace standouts Shane Horton and Mike Stanton.
Another player making a positive impression was Canyon linebacker Mike Spagnola, a converted defensive tackle.
He caused Notre Dame trouble all night, dropping running back Thaddeus Brown twice for losses and sacking Crist once.
-- Eric Sondheimer
In other games:
Lake Balboa Birmingham 20, Long Beach Poly 7 -- Milton Knox scored on a one-yard dive and followed with a two-point conversion run to put the 18th-ranked Patriots ahead, 20-0, at Birmingham. Second-ranked Poly didn’t get on the scoreboard until Morgan Fennell connected with Romeo Robinson on a 24-yard pass play with 1:27 left.
Santa Ana Mater Dei 58, West Covina 6 -- Andrew Abbott returned the opening kickoff 94 yards, and the top-ranked Monarchs rolled at Santa Ana Stadium. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley passed for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
-- Jaime Cardenas
Redlands East Valley 21, Riverside North 20 -- Jonathan Raedel scored on a 22-yard pass play with 1:10 left, and No. 23 Redlands East Valley upset No. 8 North at Riverside College. North had taken a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter but failed on the two-point conversion.
-- Dan Arritt