ALHAMBRA — For the second year in a row, La Cañada High opened its football season against Alhambra High, and the Spartans got an encore performance.
For the second year in a row the Spartans outdistanced Alhambra, this year by relying on a stout defense and overcoming a disastrous third quarter to win 24-13 Friday night at Moor Field.
“[Alhambra] played a good game against us. It was out first game of contact,” La Cañada second-year Coach James Sims said. “So, I’m not happy with the performance really, but based on the fact that is the first time we’ve played or had contact with anyone else, I’ll take the win and we’ll have to go get better.”
La Cañada (1-0) took the ball away from the Moors six times on defense, including four interceptions of Moor quarterback James Giambalvo, two of which the Spartans returned for touchdowns.
The final pick came with the Spartans clinging to a 17-13 lead late in the fourth quarter. La Cañada’s Anthony Connell, who also had a second-quarter interception, picked off a tipped pass and returned it 13 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
“The receiver who it was intended to tipped it and then I got it, then Cole Reeb got it, then it went back to me and I found the end zone,” Connell said of his defensive touchdown that sealed the win.
In the first half, La Cañada picked off the junior on three of his seven passing attempts. Spartan Sam Brown got it started with a late first-quarter pick that his team turned into points on offense for the first score of the contest. They came on a 76-yard touchdown throw from Spartans quarterback Robbie Fuelling to Jadon Henry with 11:36 left before halftime.
“It was a crossing route and I saw the safety sitting inside,” Henry said. “I told my quarterback, ‘Hey, he’s sitting.’ He saw me and he gave me the perfect ball.”
The second Spartans pick came just over a minute after the Henry score, when senior Brad Woolf made the interception and returned it 38 yards for a defensive touchdown and, after the Michael Selsor PAT, a two-score advantage. Connell got the visitors’ third interception before the break, halting the Moors’ final push for points and the Spartans led, 14-0, at the break.
The third quarter could hardly have gone worse for La Cañada. Alhambra (0-2) started with the ball and, after 30 yards of Spartans penalties, Giambalvo ran the ball around the left side and broke through the pack on the way to a 34-yard touchdown run. Even worse for La Cañada was that Woolf suffered a severe dislocation and fracture of his right arm, which required him to be stabilized before leaving the field in an ambulance.
“He broke his wrist,” Sims said. “That hurt us with our senior leadership, but we’re real deep in the defensive backfield. We’ll be OK and hopefully he’ll heal fast and get back to us.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Henry returned the ball 96 yards for a score, but the touchdown was negated by a Spartans personal foul well behind the ball. Instead, the drive ended with a fumble by Donnie Breneman recovered by Moor Jacob Holguin. The Spartans’ next drive ended with a fumble on a run once again, this time by John Scoodeh, also recovered by Holguin. However, three plays later, Moors running back Ivan Ozozco fumbled five yards from the Spartans’ end zone, and Spartan Cal McFadden scooped up the ball and returned it 77 yards to set up a 33-yard field goal by Selsor, thereby salvaging three points from the quarter.
Then on the final play of the third, the Spartans punt returner muffed the kick, returning the ball to Alhambra.
“Turnovers,” Sims said of what his team must improve upon. “That’s one of the things that killed us last year. We’ve got to hold on to the ball.”
The ensuing fourth-quarter drive was stopped when Spartan Mario Martinez jumped on a bad snap, but the Moors’ next drive after that produced a two-yard touchdown pass and pulled the Moors within four after they missed the PAT. Last season, the opening win against Alhambra was followed with an eight-game losing streak, so the Spartans are looking to change that this season, as they move on to play at Glendale next week.
“I think this was a great win,” Connell said, “but then again last year we had this same win and then went on to lose a bunch of games. But I think this year there is something different about our ‘D.’”