It was big news that senior running back Arick McLawyer was back for the Huntington Beach High football team against Irvine on Friday.
But the visiting Vaqueros, and likely many in attendance on both sides of the stands, were surely taken aback by the unexpected excellence of Huntington Beach backup quarterback Brandon Cannella in the Oilers’ 48-14 nonleague win.
McLawyer, an All-Sunset League veteran with a fistful of Division I scholarship offers who was sidelined with a sprained ankle in last week’s loss to Long Beach Wilson, bolted 45 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He added touchdown runs of four and two yards on his way to 189 yards on 22 carries.
But while McLawyer was administering justice to the Irvine defense, Cannella, who had been the junior varsity signal-caller the first three weeks, stepped in for injured starter Brady Gardner to complete 12 of 15 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Cannella, who hooked up with senior receiver Jeremiah Flanagan for touchdowns of 34 and 25 yards, also turned a bootleg into an eight-yard touchdown to give the Oilers (3-1) a 36-7 lead late in the third quarter.
“He did surprise me,” said Huntington Beach coach Brett Brown, who noted that Gardner, a junior who had thrown for 586 yards and seven touchdowns in the first three games, sprained his left knee early in Wednesday’s practice.
“[Canella] had been our JV quarterback, so we knew what he could do and we had confidence in him,” Brown said. “He stepped right in, had two good practices and we knew he was going to be the guy tonight.”
Canella, who transferred from Edison after his freshman year and had thrown just one varsity pass this season prior to Friday (an incompletion), was aided by a productive running game that rolled up 275 yards on 33 attempts.
“We wanted to keep it simple for [Cannella] and it helped that we established our run game right away,” Brown said.
Also big for the Oilers was Flanagan (89 yards on five receptions), and a swarming defense that sacked Irvine quarterback Marc Filia six times and allowed just 16 rushing yards.
Junior end Brandon Bova was in on three sacks, including a strip sack that ended with Michael McCormick recovering a fumble to set up a touchdown that put the hosts up 29-7 late in the first half. The deficit was too much for Irvine (0-3) to overcome.
“Our defense played awesome,” Brown said of unit also spearheaded by linebackers John Gosney and Christian Moore. “We got back to physical football and were flying around and getting to the ball.”
Brown said Gardner received news at halftime that he may return as soon as the Sunset League opener on Sept. 28 against Newport Harbor.
Huntington Beach 48, Irvine 14
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Irvine 0 – 7 – 7 – 0 — 14
Huntington Beach 14 – 15 – 7 – 12 — 48
HB – McLawyer 45 run (Macy kick), 11:44.
HB – McLawyer 4 run (Macy kick), 5:49.
I – Haley 26 pass from Filia (Tanikawa kick), 10:43.
HB – Flanagan 34 pass from Cannella (Macy kick), 5:20.
HB – Flanagan 25 pass from Cannella (Van Leeuwen pass from Fauria), :46.
HB – Cannella 8 run (Macy kick), 3:49.
I – Filia 4 run (Tanikawa kick), :36.
HB – McLawyer 2 run (kick blocked), 11:03.
HB – Plis 1 run (pass failed), 2:59.
I – Ellis, 9-11; Tanikawa, 1-17.
HB – McLawyer, 22-189, 3 TDs.
I – Filia, 9-23-0, 126, 1 TD.
HB – Cannella, 12-15-0, 160, 2 TDs.
I – Haley, 3-62, 1 TD.
HB – Flanagan, 5-89, 2 TDs.
BARRY FAULKNER is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5