On paper, the Rio Hondo League championship was up for grabs in Friday night's match-up between La Cañada and Monrovia.
Yet, it was an entirely different story on field, as the only thing colder than the on-field temperature was the Spartan offense.
Wildcat quarterback Nick Bueno almost single-handedly claimed the Rio Hondo title for Monrovia (9-0, 4-0), as the junior rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries and completed 10 of 14 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 43-7 victory over the Spartans in La Cañada's final home game of the regular season.
In fact, Bueno produced more yards on the ground than the entire Spartan offense combined, with La Cañada (4-4, 2-2) amassing only 197 yards of total offense on the evening – 94 of which came on the team's final drive.
“It's a tough loss. It's brutal,” Spartans Head Coach Dan Yoder said after the loss. “We felt pretty good, felt pretty high off the San Marino win. But (Monrovia)'s one heck of a football team over there.”
It was a football team that created unique ways to sneak past La Cañada defenders and managed to turn broken plays into spectacular touchdown scores, including two 40-yard passes and an 80-yard quarterback keeper that found its way to the end zone.
“We felt like we had a good game plan for what they do,” Yoder added about preparing for the Wildcats. “You look for the weaknesses and you try to exploit them. But there are not a whole lot of weaknesses over there. They are big, and they are fast, and they are strong.”
Meanwhile, the La Cañada offense could not get anything going. Senior quarterback Rocky Moore was intercepted twice (by Monrovia's Derrin Jenkins and Evan Sanchez) and sacked four times. Moore finished the game completing just 8 of 18 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown.
That sole touchdown pass came midway through the second quarter. Already trailing 22-0, the Spartans were forced to punt after a stalled drive near midfield. However, Dujawn Jones fumbled a Matt Faber punt, and Kevin Hurlbutt recovered the loose football on the Monrovia 23-yard line. After Daleep Sandhu rushed for a two-yard loss, Moore completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hanson with 4:49 remaining in the half.
However, that would be the last meaningfully productive drive of the game for the Spartans, as La Cañada could not string together more than 15 yards on a drive until its final possession of the game.
All the while, Monrovia had no problems finding the end zone, scoring on its first three possessions and playing the entire first half without having to punt the ball. (The Wildcats only punted three times all game, compared to seven for the Spartans).
Bueno was by far the standout of the game, with his three rushing touchdowns coming on plays of 17, 80 and 23 yards, while both of his scoring passes were for 40 yards each to Grant Huggard and Christian Blanco, respectively.
Despite Blanco's stellar performance resulting in a league title, the Wildcats did not rush to celebrate as they suffered two key injuries. Sophomore De'Shawn Ramirez suffered a left-ankle sprain on the team's opening drive and did not return, while senior running back Justin De La Nuez was taken to the hospital to take X-rays on his ankle sprain.
Across the field, the Spartans lost top senior defender Paul Lee to a knee injury; no timetable has been set for his return.
The rest of the team is looking forward to this week's regular season finale game against South Pasadena, where a win secure a playoff berth. Yoder hopes his players learned a few lessons from the Monrovia loss to put them over the top this week against the Tigers.
“You show (our players) it's a little bit here and a little bit there, and if we can tighten that up, we can take that into playoffs. We take this and learn from it,” Yoder said. “From day one, we've been saying we're playing until Thanksgiving, at least. It would be a huge disappointment not to make playoffs, and these players know to not look past South Pasadena.”