Despite Valiant Second Half Effort, La Cañada Falls to Lompoc Cabrillo, 28-12, in CIF Quarterfinals

La Cañada varsity football coach Rich Wheeler wanted his team to play 14 games this season and win the CIF Southern Section Division X championship.

He missed it by two games.

Visiting Lompoc Cabrillo, avenging a 25-7 defeat to the Spartans in the first round of the playoffs last year, ended La Cañada's 2005 season with a 28-12 victory in the quarterfinals round last Friday night.

The Conquistadores built up a 21-0 first half lead, but had to fight off an inspired Spartans' squad in the second half of play to hold on for the win.

La Cañada finished with an overall record of 9-3, the fifth best record in the history of the program at the school. Lompoc Cabrillo, the winner of the Los Padres League, improved to 10-2, but will have to travel to Encino this week to play 9-3 Crespi which won the Del Rey League.

Wheeler said after the game that his players weren't intimidated by Lompoc which has a powerful running game.

"They just flat out beat us. We thought we could come back in the second half, the kids were excited. Our timing was just a little off. They stuck it too us," he said.

Conquistadores' head coach Don Cross said his game plan against the Spartans worked. "We like to run the ball and we thought our offense could run the ball on their defense," he said.

"We knew what to expect, we just couldn't stop them. We dropped balls, we missed tackles," Wheeler said.

Cross said his team played nearly flawless football in the first half, but the second half was another story. "They came out in the second half and played with a lot of intensity, but we had just enough to win.

"We have played this team two years in a row. I have a lot of respect for them. They are a well coached team," Cross said.

After the Spartans received the opening kickoff, there was an indication that things were going to go their way. Cabrillo stopped them on their first drive and forced them to punt.

However, Dave Hopkins punt went out at Cabrillo's one-yard line, forcing the Conquistadores to play guarded football. Cabrillo eventually punted and the Spartans' Evan Elsaden retuned the kick to midfield.

La Cañada had moved the ball down to Cabrillo's 13-yard line, but the team was called for holding, moving the ball back to the Conquistadores' 43-yard line. That might have been the turning point in the game as Cabrillo's defense stiffened. Quarterback T.J. Trumbo was continually blitzed by the Cabrillo defense. The Spartans couldn't get their passing or running game on track and they were forced to go for a field goal. Hopkins' 37-yard attempt was wide to the left.

That was all Cabrillo needed. They got the ball back and quickly stunned La Cañada with a 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback C.J. Simmons to running back Vailala Taua. Kicker Casey Belluz kicked a bullet extra point to make the score 7-0 and Cabrillo went into the lead to stay with 15 second left in the first quarter.

On the Conquistadores' next possession in the second quarter, they moved steadily downfield from their own 41-yard line until Taua scored his second TD of the evening on a six-yard run. Belluz's extra point try hit an upright, but bounced through and Cabrillo extended its lead to 14-0.

The Spartans have to punt after their next possession. Starting from their own 32-yard line, the Conquistadores moved downfield again until Simmons took the ball in on a 22-yard run. Belluz booted the point after and Cabrillo was now ahead 21-0 with 1:14 remaining in the second quarter.

It appeared that La Cañada might score before the first half ended as running back Lavelle Peterson took the kickoff and ran it back 69 yards to the Cabrillo's 33-yard line. However, the Cabrillo defense stopped the Spartans on their last three plays before the first half ended.

After the teams exchanged punts in the third quarter, La Cañada finally got on the scoreboard with 5:03 left. Peterson scored on a one-yard run, his 20th of the season and a new school record. A bad snap prevented Hopkins from kicking the extra point. The Spartans were behind 21-6.

After getting the ball back from Cabrillo near the end of the third quarter, La Cañada found itself at the Conquistadores' two-yard line 11 plays later.

Trumbo hit Hopkins on a TD pass with 8:41 remaining in the game. It would turn out to the Spartans' final score of the season and Hopkins final score of his La Cañada career as the two-point conversion attempt failed.

The Spartans were fired up and were behind only 21-12 with enough time left to catch up. However, that wasn't to be.

On Cabrillo's third play following receiving the kickoff, Simmons scored on a 71-yard run with 7:09 left in the game to eliminate any chance the Spartans might have had to win the contest. Belluz's extra point try was good and the Conquistadores had the game in the bag with a 28-12 advantage.

The Cabrillo defense stopped the Spartans on four plays and got the ball right back with 6:08 remaining in the game. The Conquistadores simply ate up the clock until time expired.

In the post game huddle, Wheeler praised his players for their efforts. "You did a h--- of a job. We appreciate that," he told them. Some of the players appeared ready to cry, some looked sad, while others seemed to take the defeat in stride.

Hopkins, who will graduate in June and hasn't decided yet where he will go to college, summed up the season for his team.

"We had a fun season. Too bad it had to end like this, we would have liked to have played two more games," he said.

Peterson led the Spartans in rushing with 10 carries for 45 yards and one TD. Both Hopkins and Elsaden gained 29 yards on five and four attempts, respectively. Trumbo rushed nine times for 15 yards.

Trumbo completed six of 18 passes for 101 yards and one TD. Hopkins was the major receiver for Trumbo with four catches for 52 yards and one TD. Peterson caught one pass for 44 yards and a TD. Elsaden had one reception or five yards.

Peterson also had two long kickoff returns (65 and 52 yards) for 117 yards total. Hopkins had one interception for 24 yards and punted four times for a total of 171 yards. Elsaden ran back two punt returns for a combined 26 yards.

Hopkins led the Spartans with 11 tackle/assists. Spencer Tompkins followed with 10, Matt Paneno came next with eight and both Roger Romero and John Ondrejcka had seven each.

Andrew Bledsoe and Brian Schmidt contributed five apiece, Kevin Schmidt added four and Peterson and Kyle Clark had three each.

Alex Sakai and Joe Hummel made two apiece and chipping in one each were Justin Luthey, Austin Batista, Nick Listo and Trumbo.

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