La Cañada High football off to the playoffs

LA CAÑADA —Second-year La Cañada football Coach James Sims had something to say to his squad after last week’s fourth-quarter comeback win over South Pasadena.

“I told them,” Sims recounted last week, “I said, ‘Look, our goal was to make it into the playoffs.’ I said, ‘We only won two games last year. You win these last [two games] and you finish five and five, everybody that had negative stuff to say about you — the 77-nothing loss [to Monrovia], the blowout by San Marino — all the negatives go away because you went from a 2-8 team into the playoffs.’”

The day of reckoning was at hand going into the Spartans’ final regular season contest hosting Temple City Friday night in what amounted to a de facto playoff game for third place in the Rio Hondo League, with the winner taking the league’s final automatic playoff berth. Behind a potent running attack and a stonewall defense, it was La Cañada that came out ahead, downing the Rams, 31-7, to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010.

“I made them work out [last] November, we were working out at six in the morning, we were doing aerobics. We were doing Pilates,” Sims said after Friday’s win, “and I was like, ‘Man, if we don’t win and make it to the playoffs they’re not going to believe in all this hard work.’ This shows them that it did pay off.”

The Spartans (5-5, 3-2), who did not attempt a pass in the game, were led on offense by the explosive running of Jadon Henry, who had touchdown runs of 76 yards, on his team’s first offensive snap, and 45 yards. The senior averaged 27.4 yards per carry on the way to a game-high 137 on just five carries.

“It’s a great victory for us,” Henry said. “We’ve been working through long winters and summers, in the weight room, on the field conditioning. It’s just a great team win. I’m proud of my offensive line [and] proud of my defense. I’m just ecstatic for my team.”

Also key to the Spartans’ success on the ground was the hard-nosed running of Donnie Breneman, who accounted for his team’s other offensive touchdown on a one-yard run in the second quarter, sending the hosts into halftime up, 21-0. The junior was the workhorse of the night for La Cañada, toting the ball 18 times for 130 yards and the one score.

“Jadon Henry and Donnie Breneman [are] amazing football players,” Sims said. “They hit holes. They ran the way we wanted them to: downhill. It was great.”

The La Cañada defense stood strong against the double-wing power running offense employed by Temple City (3-7, 2-3), especially in the first half. On the game’s opening possession, the Rams were driving before senior Michael Greenberg caused Nate Salcido to fumble the ball, which Trent Bauer scooped up and retuned 58 yards for the first points of the game. The Rams went for it on fourth down on their next three possessions and each time came up short, running into a wall of defenders and giving the ball back to La Cañada.

The final possession for Temple City in the second quarter ended with an interception by Spartan Anthony Connell. In total, the Rams turned the ball over four times with Pablo Arias recovering a Rams fumble early in the final quarter. Later in the fourth, Sam Brown also picked off Rams quarterback Rico Salcido, leading to the final points of the contest when Michael Selsor, back from injury, booted home a 33-yard field goal with 52 seconds to go.

“The defense played lights out,” Sims said.

Temple City scored its only touchdown of the game on a two-yard run by Nic Starling with 1:06 left in the third. However, Henry answered two plays and 41 seconds later with his 45-yard scoring run.

“For the first time, La Cañada played four quarters of football,” Sims said. “I knew we were capable, so I’m proud of them.”

The victory means the Spartans finish in third place in the Rio Hondo League and will also play on for at least one more week as an entrant in the CIF-Southern Section Division Mid-Valley playoffs.

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