ALHAMBRA — There couldn't have been a much better start to the football season than the one La Cañada High had at Alhambra's Moor Field on Friday night.
Unfortunately for La Cañada, momentum didn't remain on its sideline long, as four Spartans' drives were derailed by fumbles and the Moors capitalized on seemingly all of La Cañada's mistakes in a 34-14 victory.
The Spartans (0-1) started the game on fire, marching 80 yards down the field in three plays for a touchdown, as quarterback Matt Jones broke a 66-yard run to give La Cañada a 7-0 lead to start the game. Alhambra's offense was forced to punt on its first two possessions.
"I thought we came out fired up," La Cañada Coach Dan Yoder said. "They were showing us what we thought they were going to show us. We were pretty excited and I thought we had a pretty good game plan."
The speed of Ezra Broadus, Alhambra's running back, proved to be La Cañada's Achilles heel Friday (along with its fumbling problems), as he ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries while sitting out most of the second half with leg cramps.
Yoder said his team was game planning for Broadus, but it's hard to simulate his speed in practice.
"We knew what he was going to do and he just did it," Yoder said.
It was Moors' quarterback, Joshua Mendoza, who got Alhambra (2-0) on the board first. Alhambra took over at La Cañada's own 28-yard line on its third drive, as the Spartans were forced to punt out of their own end zone. It took the Moors five plays to punch it in as Mendoza scored on three-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game at 7 with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
La Cañada's offense couldn't replicate its opening-drive success as the next two Spartans' drives were stopped by fumbles, which were both recovered by Alhambra's Osvaldo Ramirez.
"I think we spent too much time on fumble drills [in the offseason]," Alhambra Coach Lou Torres said. "It seemed like that's all we worked on during two-a-days. It really worked out tonight.
"We constantly tell our kids to swarm the ball. If you swarm the ball you'll be around when the ball's on the floor. Our defense did a great job."
Broadus turned both fumbles into scores with touchdown runs of 45 and three yards to give his team a 20-7 lead after a missed extra point five seconds into the second quarter. Mendoza padded the lead, connecting with receiver Demetrius Russell on a 25-yard fade route that went for another score, giving Alhambra a 27-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Mendoza finished with 154 passing yards, connecting on 12 of his 18 passes and three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing). Russell totaled 97 receiving yards to go with his score.
The Spartans' offense briefly came alive after a 73-yard kickoff return from Kevin Stoner, as he worked his way to Alhambra's 23-yard line after Mendoza's touchdown pass. Andy Paynter made the return count, capping off a seven-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run to cut the score to 27-14 with 1:10 left in the first half.
Despite surrendering five touchdowns, most coming on a short field, La Cañada's defense looked impressive. The Spartans got plenty of pressure on Mendoza, sacking him four times, and stood tall on two different goalline stands.
"We knew from the get-go yards were going to be tough to come by against La Cañada," Torres said. "They have a very good defense and they're physical. It was tough going, there were a couple times we got down [to the goalline] and got stuffed."
La Cañada's Mario Del Cueto also blocked an Alhambra field-goal attempt with 42 seconds left in the first half.
The second half didn't bode well for La Cañada's offense, either, as two more fumbles gave Alhambra more prime scoring opportunities. Still down, 27-14, Jones was stripped at the Spartans' three-yard line, which Mendoza ran in from a yard out to cap the scoring at 34-14.
"When you're an option team [fumbles are] always something to be afraid of in the first game," Yoder said. "It's something we have to iron out. We gave them a short field a couple of times and dug ourselves into a hole we just couldn't get out off."