LA CAÑADA — La Cañada High started this football season on a strong note by winning its first two games, but that note had flattened out the next two weeks, as the Spartans lost twice.
The Spartans had one last nonleague contest to get the season back in tune Friday night at home before the start of Rio Hondo league action. However, it came against fellow Mid-Valley Division member Arroyo and would be a challenge, as the visiting Knights entered Friday night’s game coming off a bye and ranked No. 2 in the division.
The Spartans managed to stay close in the first half, but the offense was silent in the second half and the Knights pulled away for a 34-10 win.
“Good game in the first half, but we came out in the second half and made some mistakes,” La Cañada Coach James Sims said. “But I’m proud of them. Nobody expected us to be in it.”
La Cañada (2-3) took its only lead of the contest at 10-7 on a 32-yard field goal off the foot of Michael Selsor with 3:45 left in the second quarter. However, Arroyo (4-1) quickly answered and for the first time in the game played with a palpable sense of urgency. The Knights drove 78 yards in 2:47, capping the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Coto to Nico Lozano. After the extra point kick, the Knights led 14-10 at half and would not trail again.
Spartans quarterback Robbie Fueling’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Jesus Calllo and returned 27 yards midway through the first quarter for the game’s first points. The senior’s second pass was caught for a 44-yard completion by Todd Murray and set up Jadon Henry’s five-yard rushing touchdown soon after to tie the score at 7. The La Cañada defense then forced a punt without yielding a first down. The Spartans offense then mounted a 13-play drive that culminated with the Selsor field goal, resulting in their brief lead.
La Cañada’s offense remained rooted in the ground game throughout, but had a hard time gaining much real estate. Donnie Breneman led the Spartans with 40 yards on 15 carries. Henry had eight carries for 31 yards and the score. Sophomore Mario Martinez also chipped in 12 carries for 32 yards.
“Defensively we’ve been able to stop teams from doing what they normally to do, but we’ve got to keep getting better on offense,” Sims said. “We’re young on offense and we’ve got to get better.”
The Arroyo offense really began to sing in the second half, which saw the visitors outscore the Spartans, 20-0. The Knights scored two touchdowns in the final 1:38 of the third. The first was on a quarterback run up the middle from four yards out by Coto for a touchdown. The Knights defense then held La Cañada without a first down, forcing a punt. Two plays later, Coto connected for another touchdown to Lozano, this time on a four-yard scoring toss. Coto was 13 of 19 for 178 yards with two touchdowns through the air and one on the ground.
“It wasn’t a big halftime speech or anything,” Arroyo Coach Jim Singiser said. “We just started executing.”
Arroyo was led on the ground by Randy Amezcua with 18 carries resulting in 108 yards. The junior also ran in the final touchdown of the game on a four-yard rush with 8:44 to go in the fourth. It could have been worse, as the Knights drove to the one-yard line with just over two minutes to go, but, instead of punching it in, elected to repeatedly take a knee and burn the majority of the remaining clock before turning the ball over on downs.
“We’ve got Blair next week and that starts the league,” Sims said. “As far as I’m concerned we are zero and zero starting next week and we can put this thing together. We can make a run and get into the playoffs.”