The La Cañada High football team has made it clear that reaching the postseason is a goal this season, and that means reversing the program’s recent fortunes in Rio Hondo League play.
The Spartans jumped at the chance to do that in their league opener, hosting Temple City.
In a wild, back-and-forth contest, it was the host Spartans who had the last say, taking away a 56-42 victory over the Rams Friday.
“It was going to be a tough challenge,” La Cañada coach Jason Sarceda said. “We came after it [and] stuck to the game plan. I’m glad that everybody participated and we came away with the [win] tonight.”
With the win, La Cañada ended an end an eight-game league losing streak that dated back to the finale of the 2016 season. It also means that after week one of league play, the Spartans are on top of the leaderboard.
“We knew that if want to make it to the playoffs, this is one of the games we needed to win,” Spartan Jacob Hardy said. “We pulled it through.”
With less than seven minutes to go in the game, La Cañada (5-2) trailed, 42-41, after losing a large early advantage. Spartan quarterback Brandon Reese lofted a pass into the right flat that came down almost on the goal line. Ram defensive back Sebastian Raygoza was in good position, but the ball just cleared his fingertips, to be grabbed by Spartan Dezin Delgatty for an 18-yard touchdown that turned out to be the winning score.
It was a serious reversal of fortune from the snap just before, where, on a very similar play, it was Raygoza who caught the Reese offering and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown. However, the score was nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty, setting the stage for the Delgatty go-ahead score.
Temple City (2-3, 0-1) would fumble away its next two possessions. The first was recovered by Hardy and would soon after be turned into an insurance touchdown on a 13-yard run, also by the junior. Delgatty recovered the next fumble, which allowed the hosts to get into victory formation.
Hardy led all rushers with 21 carries for 138 yards and the one score. Reese finished 12 of 21 for 159 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The beginning of the game could hardly have gone better for La Cañada. The Spartans scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. They came on a 19-yard pass from Reese to Justin Zoltzman, a two-yard designed run by Reese and a 37-yard connection from Reese to Walker Baggett, respectively.
The La Cañada defense held the Rams without a first down in their first three possessions, resulting in a 21-0 La Cañada advantage with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
“We came out strong. Hats off to [Temple City]. They have a good coaching staff. They came back second quarter and made their adjustments,” Sarceda said. “Then we just had to buckle down.”
Things changed when La Cañada’s fourth possession saw a Reese pass careen off a receiver in the middle of the field and be picked off by Ram Jordan Ivie. The visitors than dialed up some trickery when, on the first play of the ensuing drive, the Rams ran a double-reverse before tossing the ball back to quarterback Alex Vera, who threw downfield to a wide-open Shawn Pan for an 85-yard touchdown.
Zoltzman answered the score by returning the resulting kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
“I prayed hard for that one,” Zoltzman said.
However, the touchdown began a run of four straight possessions, which ended with a Temple City touchdown. It included a 21-0 scoring advantage in the second quarter that made it a tie game at the break, 28-28.
The Rams took their first lead of the game with 9:06 left in the third quarter. Vera finished off a five-play 80-yard drive with a 60-yard scoring pass to Andrew Gutierrez.
The Spartans were still trailing, 35-34, in the final minute of the third quarter when Vera threw an ill-advised pass into the right flat that Zoltzman picked off and returned 83 yards for his third touchdown of the game.
Just 1:02 into the fourth quarter, the Rams retook the lead on a 50-yard strike from Vera to Raygoza, resulting in a 42-41 advantage following the successful extra-point kick.
Vera finished 15 of 30 for 308 yards, four touchdowns and the interception.
La Cañada will have a bye before returning to meet San Marino on the road Oct. 18.