Cheng leads Sage Hill to easy win

NEWPORT COAST — Just before halftime, there was a contest for who could come up with the best nickname for Sage Hill School's offense during its season opener Friday night.

The second-place nickname: Cheng Reaction, a play on the last name of senior Eric Cheng. He wasn't the entire offense, but after watching him against Fairmont Prep, you would understand the clever moniker.

Cheng ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries to help the Lightning score a 48-6 win at Sage Hill's Ramer Field.

"I knew Cheng would come out and play well. He's too good of an athlete," Sage Hill Coach J.R. Tolver said. "He's going to help us in a lot of ball games."

It was Cheng's debut as the Lightning's lead running back. He didn't disappoint.

Cheng said he liked the nickname and it made him laugh a bit. Truth be told, Cheng said his nickname is Choo, Choo. Call him the Cheng Train, and he was running at full speed against the Huskies.

"This can set the tone for the rest of the season," Cheng said of the Lightning's performance. "Playing like this does give us confidence and gets the momentum going."

Cheng reached the century mark on his 13th carry, producing an 11-yard TD run that gave Sage Hill a 35-0 lead after Joe Melita's point-after kick. The Lightning were in full control. But they were on their way to domination from the start, building a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.

By halftime, the winning nickname seemed apt: The Green Machine.

Quarterback Taylor Petty is the one directing the machine. He opened with a big play for the Lightning. Cheng lined up as the quarterback in shotgun formation and pitched it back to Petty who was near the home sideline. Petty then launched a deep pass to tight end Ford Hanour for a 66-yard reception.

Sage Hill drove to the Fairmont 2-yard line, where it would score on fourth down. Petty came through again. This time, he lined up as a wide receiver, where he played last year. Harrison Ray threw the touchdown to Petty on a quick slant.

The Lightning's offense wasn't the whole story. At halftime, Sage Hill held Fairmont Prep to 21 yards and just one first down.

"We did some things well," said Tolver who was recognized as ABC7/NFL High School Coach of the Week Wednesday at Sage (the segment airs Saturday night). "Any time you come out and score points there's a lot of good. That being said, we have a ton of things to work on. We know in order for us to continue this train moving in the direction we want it to go we have to go for perfection. We did not have perfection."

Tolver's desire for perfection must be part of the reason he became coach of the week. Tolver, who is in his third season, was recognized for his coaching skills, as well as his impact on the students, school and community, after being nominated by letter from a viewer.

He wanted his team to get the shutout, but he wasn't disappointed.

The Huskies prevented the shutout by scoring on the game's final play, a 10-yard pass from Bobby Varnadoe to William Ma.

However, Sage Hill had plenty of more highlights than Fairmont Prep.

In addition to catching a touchdown pass, Petty also ran one in, scoring from 28 yards out. The defense also provided a highlight when David Fenner returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown. Fenner caught the interception after a tip from Conner Ascher, who broke up the pass.

Ascher had an interception later. Ray scored on a seven-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. And, Michael Schidlovsky capped the scoring with a 32-yard run with 10:03 remaining in the game.

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