The La Cañada Gladiators youth football team looked discouraged even before the first snap of their first-round playoff game against the Pico Rivera Dons.
However, that feeling didn't last long,
"We just had to get their heads up, get out there and play our game," Gladiators running back Kyle Tavizon said.
The Gladiator Junior Midgets did just that after giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, giving Pico Rivera an early 6-0 lead.
For the first time all year, the Junior Midgets trailed in a game. But La Cañada quickly shrugged it off, bouncing right back for a 19-6 victory.
"That was one play at the very beginning of the game and we had 39 minutes to go," La Cañada Coach Keenan Cheung said. "With the way our defense plays, and the way that we managed the clock on offense, we knew we were going to be OK. No one hung their heads."
Defense and a strong offense were the keys to the Junior Midgets' win. The Dons were held to just 130 total yards (69 rushing and 66 passing), compared to the Gladiators' 335 yards. All six of Pico Rivera's drives ended in punts or turned-over balls on downs.
Offense wasn't much of a problem for the Gladiators, as they evened the score at 6 on their third drive of the game when quarterback Kyle Cheung hit his receiver Mike Reilly for a 15-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter.
The teams entered halftime tied at 6, but it didn't take long for La Cañada to get going in the second half.
Cheung moved the offense up the field, completing a 60-yard pass to Joey McClure, putting the Gladiators at Pico Rivera's 30-yard line. Faced with a fourth down, it looked like the big gain might go to waste. But Cheung threw the ball to running back Ernesto Jauregui, who was wide open. Jauregui ran to a soft spot in the Dons' defense, caught the ball and scored an easy 30-yard touchdown to give La Cañada a 12-6 lead.
"We knew we had to get the ball out of our hands quicker because they play a soft man. I just had to lay it up there and hope our receivers could make a play," said Cheung, who finished the game with three completions on eight attempts for 90 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, along with 62 rushing yards in two carries.
The Dons' offense continued to struggle in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over on downs at the Gladiator 15-yard line.
La Cañada looked to run out the clock but ended up rushing for a big play, as Cheung faked a handoff. But he kept the ball for himself, taking off down the field until he was tackled after a 52-yard gain. A few plays later, running back Kyle Tavizon punched it in from three yards out, giving the Gladiators a 19-6 lead after a converted extra-point kick.
Tavizon single-handedly outgained the entire Dons' offense with 16 carries for 134 yards, highlighted by a 50-yard run on the Gladiators' first play from scrimmage.
"I never had a game like this in the regular season, but this game I had such good blocking," Tavizon said.
La Cañada will push forward next week, as it is one step closer to its goal.
"Our goal is to go all the way. We haven't lost in two-and-a-half years," Keenan Cheung said. "At the beginning of the season our goal was 23 wins, and we have two more games until we have 23 straight victories."
The La Cañada Junior Pee-Wees also came up with a playoff win last weekend, defeating the Hacienda Heights Cougars on Sunday, 20-0.
Running back Will McConnell carried the Junior Pee-Wees on offense yet again with two rushing touchdowns, one for 29-yards and another for 11. Kyle Ramirez also had a one-yard touchdown run.