Barons drop league opener

HUNTINGTON BEACH — To say that Friday's Sunset League football opener between Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley was a tale of two halves would be an understatement.

Host Fountain Valley held the edge in the first half, much to the delight of its homecoming crowd at Huntington Beach High's Cap Sheue Field.

Los Alamitos, stagnant the first 24 minutes of the game, exploded in the second half.

That turnaround by the Griffins propelled them to a 24-7 victory.

"We played so well in the first half but it was a completely different game in the second half," Fountain Valley Coach John Shipp said after his Barons fell to 2-3-1 overall. "We held them down in that first half but they, obviously, made some adjustments at halftime and turned it around."

Los Alamitos, which snapped a two-game losing streak to improve to 4-2 overall, changed the course of the game in a quick span of the third quarter to wipe out a 7-3 halftime deficit.

The Griffins managed a paltry 53 yards of offense in the opening half. If it weren't for a 71-yard punt return by Cody Paul midway through the first quarter that led to a 22-yard field goal by Dan Boyer, Los Al might not have scored in the half.

But in the second half, the Griffins stunned the Barons.

On the second play of the third quarter, senior receiver Richard Turner took a reverse 33 yards out to the Fountain Valley 47-yard line. On the next play, Paul, a junior running back, went straight up the middle for a 47-yard touchdown run to cap an 80-yard drive just 36 seconds into the half. On the Griffins' next possession, Turner took a second-down handoff on a sweep left and outran the Fountain Valley pursuit to score on an 87-yard run. The two-play drive increased the lead to 17-7.

On the Griffins' third series of the quarter, they went 55 yards in eight plays to score again. Turner got his second touchdown of the night on an 11-yard run.

Los Al had a 24-7 lead with 1:42 left in the third quarter, a 12-minute span where they racked up 223 yards and three touchdowns.

What ignited the Griffins? Los Al Coach John Barnes claimed he said nothing special during his halftime talk.

There was no tirade.

"I really didn't say anything," he said. "Nothing, really. All we said was that we came here to win and that's about it."

Paul also ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter but the score was negated by a holding call against the Griffins.

"We made some plays when we needed to," Barnes said. "We just needed to get something going, and we did. Cody (Paul) and Richard (Turner) had some big runs.

"We needed this one. It's been a long time since we've gone this long (three weeks) without a win. The kids worked hard these past two weeks."

While Los Al mustered just 53 yards, Fountain Valley was able to net just 89 in the first half with 75 of those yards coming on the ground. Senior running back Montana Merhoff had 57 of them on 16 carries including a seven-yard touchdown run with 1:47 left in the half. The scoring drive was set up when senior outside linebacker Courtland Drummond leveled a Los Al defender as he was bearing down on Barons' punt returner Sean Myers. The big hit sprung Myers for an 18-yard return to the Los Alamitos 32. Fountain Valley converted a key fourth-and-one when quarterback Kai Fernandez gained two yards to keep the drive alive. Merhoff burst into the end zone on the next play.

"It's tough to lose anytime, but we're right there," Shipp said. "We now know that we can play with anybody in the Sunset League. We gave up a few big plays and we'll have to work on that. We need to work on consistency and being more physical. We have a great group of guys and I think they'll work hard to meet those challenges."

Merhoff, who came into the game averaging six yards per carry, only rushed three times in the second half and finished with 57 yards.

After rushing for 20 yards on two carries in the first half, Turner went on to finish with 169 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. Paul gained 65 yards on seven carries.

Fountain Valley travels to Westminster High next Friday to meet Marina. The 7 p.m. league contest is Marina's homecoming game.

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