With only two tough opponents — Eagle Rock tonight, and the ever-aggressive Harvard-Westlake — left in the pre-season, Head Coach Rich Wheeler and his La Cañada Spartans' best chance for their first victory of the season came against Gabrielino last Friday night.
Despite the threat of rain showers, the Spartans dominated at the start of the contest and defeated the host Gabrielino Eagles easily, 19-7.
Wheeler was quite ecstatic after the game, but specified that everything from now on would be uphill.
“We played great throughout the game,” said Wheeler. “The offense was good and the defense was also good. This is the taste that the boys will get.
“The games will get tougher as we go along in the season, but that's OK, as we will get better and better.”
As clouds appeared over the Gabrielino stadium, it was La Cañada who got through the clearing at the start of the contest on the Spartans' first possession.
With the game only two minutes old, Nate Nitkowski blasted his way through the Eagle defense with a 29-yard touchdown run. The Spartans struck again on their next possession with an 11-yard run from Brian Veeh that gave La Cañada a quick 12-0 lead — despite one botched field goal attempt and one failed two-point conversion.
By halftime, the Spartans had already chalked up a rushing total of 153 yards.
The third quarter was dry in scoring for both teams, even as storm clouds rolled in, threatening a downpour.
It became a major seesaw battle that was more of a defensive battle than anything else.
With the weather worsening, both teams went into the final quarter with all to play for.
But it was La Cañada who became the first team to break the stale period of play when Andrew Kim scored his first touchdown of the year with a nine-yard run with 10:51 left in the game.
The point-after was successful, and with a 19-point lead for the Spartans, there might have been time for the team to take a breather, but the defense held Gabrielino up for the rest of the game, only succumbing at the end of the game when Andy Tholt caught a six-yard pass for the Eagles to narrow the score at 19-7.
However, La Cañada held the cards and kept the ball for the rest of the time to run out the clock for their first win of the season.
In yardage for La Cañada, Nitkowski held the highest total with 47 yards on seven receptions while Dodge Williams went 44 yards on four.
Spartan quarterback Duke McCaffery completed five for 12, but La Cañada scored their three touchdowns all by rushing.
As Wheeler mentioned, things will get tougher. The Spartans face another flock of Eagles tonight, this time from Eagle Rock. The squad has won the Los Angeles City Section 3-A title for the last two seasons.
La Cañada's final preseason game against Harvard-Westlake will give the Spartans one more test run before starting league play on Oct. 12 at San Marino High.