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Artesia runs past Laguna Beach in CIF Division 12 semifinal

With its best player sidelined, whatever already diminished hopes the Laguna Beach High football team had of reaching its first CIF Southern Section championship game since 1962 seemed to leave with another injured player taken from the field by ambulance late in the first quarter Friday night at Lakewood Artesia.

Laguna Beach coach John Shanahan said junior receiver Jack Crawford sustained a dislocated jaw and was taken to a hospital after being hit on a crossing pattern with 3:51 left in the opening quarter of the Division 12 semifinal.

Third-seeded Artesia, playing in the program's first semifinal, went on to claim a dominant 48-6 triumph to advance to the title game.

The Pioneers (10-3) will hit the road to face No. 1 Temecula Linfield Christian (12-1) in the final at Murrieta Mesa High on Nov. 23 or Nov. 24. Linfield Christian advanced with a 57-13 semifinal win at Palm Desert Xavier Prep.

Second-seeded Laguna Beach (10-3), playing without record-setting receiver and all-around top gun Sean Nolan, who sustained a shoulder injury late in the 34-13 quarterfinal win over Northwood, was trailing 13-6 when Crawford went down. On its next three plays after a 22-minute delay, Laguna Beach’s offense had losses of two, five and eight yards, before a high punt snap sailed into the end zone.

He’s heading back to Ireland at the end of the year to be a professional rugby player and we didn’t want to put him in a position to [jeopardize that future].

John Shanahan, Laguna Beach High coach

The punter, filling in for Nolan, retreated and tried to fall on the loose ball for a safety. But the attempt failed, allowing Artesia’s Laquan Ware-Morales to pounce on the ball for a touchdown and a 20-6 lead.

Artesia, led by the dominant rushing performances of senior running back Travys Davis and senior quarterback Heder Gladden, continued to command the situation on its way to a 34-6 halftime lead.

Jack Crawford
Laguna Beach High receiver Jack Crawford is wheeled off the field by medics after dislocating his jaw in the first quarter of a CIF Southern Section Division 12 semifinal game at Lakewood Artesia on Friday. Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer

On its first 17 plays after the Crawford injury, the Laguna Beach offense netted zero yards, until senior Shane Lythgoe darted 25 yards with a fourth-down draw to end the half. The Breakers completed just two of 11 passes during that stretch, including one two-yard loss, and were sacked five times.

In addition to Crawford and Nolan, Laguna Beach was playing without junior receiver Raul Villalobos, who broke his collarbone against Northwood.

“The [Crawford injury] deflated us,” Shanahan said. “When you have two receivers down and a third receiver goes down, emotionally … I think we could have handled it if we would have come out and played solid defense early. But because they were just gashing us [with long rushing gains], I think we were vulnerable in that moment we got the injury and it was really hard to bounce back from.”

Nolan, who had 14 catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns in two previous playoff wins, had a school-record 70 receptions for 1,184 yards coming in. He had scored 20 touchdowns in 2018 and his 155 career receptions are also a school record. He shares the team lead with four interceptions, averaged nearly 42 yards per punt and had returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

Andrew Johnson
Laguna Beach High's Andrew Johnson throws a pass in the second quarter of a CIF Southern Section Division 12 semifinal game at Lakewood Artesia on Friday. Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer

Still, without their biggest star, the Breakers reached the red zone on their opening possession and drove 65 yards on seven plays, capped by a 16-yard scoring pass from Andrew Johnson to Kai Ball, to knot the score at 6-6 on the visitors’ second possession.

After a dropped pass on a wide-open, fourth-down screen that may have produced a touchdown ended Laguna Beach’s first possession, Davis bolted 81 yards for a touchdown on Artesia’s first offensive snap.

Davis, who finished the first half with 234 rushing yards on 13 attempts, added touchdown runs of 24 and 38 yards to effectively render the final two quarters moot.

Gladden, who completed just two of four passes, had a 53-yard touchdown run on Artesia’s fourth offensive play to give the hosts the lead for good. He added second-half scoring runs of five and 55 yards to help complete the rout.

Travys Davis, Shane Lythgoe
Lakewood Artesia High running back Travys Davis runs upfield while under pursuit from Laguna Beach's Shane Lythgoe, right, in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 12 playoffs on Friday. Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer

Davis finished with 272 yards on 21 attempts, while Gladden carried 14 times for 203 yards.

“Those are special football players,” Shanahan said of Gladden and Davis, who have 2,319 and 2,066 rushing yards, respectively, this season. With each scoring three touchdowns Friday, Gladden now has 33 of the duo’s 60 rushing TDs this season.

The Breakers, who came in averaging 34.3 points per game, lost the total offense battle, 498 yards to 191.

Artesia, which had allowed 436 points its first 12 games, produced six quarterback sacks and two interceptions. The Pioneers did not have a turnover and scored on six of their first seven possessions.

Johnson, who amassed Laguna Beach single-season records for completions (236), passing yards (3,211) and touchdown passes (42), compiled 107 of his 134 passing yards before halftime.

Shanahan said the Breakers were hopeful that Nolan, a senior, could play until noon on Friday, when the Ireland-born rugby standout said the pain was too great to play.

“He’s heading back to Ireland at the end of the year to be a professional rugby player and we didn’t want to put him in a position to [jeopardize that future],” Shanahan said.

Laguna Beach has lost in the semifinals four times in the last eight seasons and is 0-5 in semifinals since making its fourth CIF final appearance in 1962. The Breakers’ lone CIF crown came in 1946.

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CIF Southern Section Division 12 playoffs

Semifinals

Lakewood Artesia 48, Laguna Beach 6

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Laguna Beach 6 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 6

Artesia 20 – 14 – 7 – 7 – 48

FIRST QUARTER

A – Davis 81 run (run failed), 9:25.

LB – Ball 16 pass from Johnson (kick failed), 5:03.

A – H. Gladden 53 run (Burgos kick), 4:02.

A – Ware-Morales fumble recovery in end zone (Burgos kick), 1:42.

SECOND QUARTER

A – Davis 24 run (Burgos kick), 2:21.

A – Davis 38 run (Burgos kick), :29.

THIRD QUARTER

A – H. Gladden 5 run (Burgos kick), 8:20.

FOURTH QUARTER

A – H. Gladden 55 run (Burgos kick), 6:51.

INDIVIDUAL RUSHING

LB – Lythgoe, 7-56.

A – Davis, 21-272, 3 TDs.

INDIVIDUAL PASSING

LB – Johnson, 9-24-2, 134, 1 TD.

A – H. Gladden, 2-4-0, 23.

INDIVIDUAL RECEIVING

LB – Ball, 3-48, 1 TD.

A – Bowman, 1-17.

BARRY FAULKNER is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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