SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — Slipping straight through the grasp of Glendale High and right into the lap of Crescenta Valley.
While that describes a game-changing muffed punt return from Friday night's Pacific League football game at Moyse Field, it's also a fitting synopsis of how the Falcons were able to take advantage of a momentum-switching play early in the second half to turn a tie game into a 35-14 victory.
"It changed the whole game," first-year Crescenta Valley Coach Paul Schilling said of Alec Traber's muffed-punt recovery on the Nitros' 19-yard line with just under four minutes gone by in the third quarter, a play that set up a go-ahead touchdown and got the Falcons' sluggish offense rolling to the tune of four straight unanswered touchdowns.
Falcons quarterback Zac Wilkerson punched in a score from two yards out for a 14-7 lead with 6:35 left in the third and, just as quickly as things began to take off for the Falcons (3-1, 1-0 in league) following Traber's recovery, they began to crumble for the Nitros.
"It was one play that caused us to unravel," said Nitros Coach Alan Eberhart, whose team had just forced the Falcons to punt from their own 46-yard line on their opening possession of the second half when the muffed punt gave Crescenta Valley the ball right back in the red zone. "Everybody in the stadium knew when that ball hit the ground, and they got it, we were done.
"You can't let [Falcons offensive coordinator Dennis Gossard] and his offense have short fields."
Indeed their first third-quarter touchdown was just the first in a series of short fields for the Falcons in the second half, as the Falcons' ensuing kickoff was mishandled, then recovered, but saw the possession backed up to the nine-yard line to start out because of a block-in-the-back penalty.
The drive lasted just three plays before a 15-yard punt set the Falcons up at the Nitros' 22-yard line. Junior running back Marro Lee, who finished with 135 yards rushing with a pair of touchdowns in 24 carries for the Falcons, finished off the quick drive with a one-yard run at the 3:04 mark of the third quarter for a 21-7 lead.
The third muffed kick return in a row by Glendale (0-4, 0-1) on the next kickoff resulted in a touchback, and another three-and-out followed, this one setting up a punt and a 49-yard field for the Falcons. By the 10:02 mark of the fourth quarter, Crescenta Valley had reached the end zone on a nine-yard run by Lee for a 28-7 lead.
Clearly rattled, Glendale had a net total of negative-eight yards of offense in its first three possessions of the second half before quarterback Alex Yoon broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run with 1:50 left in the game.
It was a contrast to the first half, in which, although they fell behind in the first quarter on the first of Wilkerson's two goal line rushes, the Nitros had stolen the momentum back by pinning the Falcons offense back inside its own 11-yard line. Glendale then capitalized with a 43-yard punt return by Alex Manukian to the Cresenta Valley five-yard line with 1:28 left in the second quarter.
"We were in trouble," Schilling said. "We did not play a good half."
Glendale would even the score with 17 seconds left on a one-yard run by Alejandro Maravilla.