LANCASTER — For the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division football playoffs, La Cañada High was given a road game in faraway Lancaster against host Paraclete.
It would be just another part of the journey for the Spartans, whose season began right after the conclusion of a two-win campaign in 2012. It started with conditioning, weight lifting, summer practices and more on-field conditioning. Then began a schedule that saw the Spartans get blown out several times, but dig their heels in and win the final two games of the regular season to take the No. 3 seed out of the Rio Hondo League, finish .500 and reach the postseason.
So La Cañada made the 70-mile trek to take on host Paraclete, the No. 4 seed, although top competition is nothing new for Spartans. Of the five losses they suffered this season, two came to the division’s top two seeds in Monrovia and Arroyo, another to San Marino and one to City Section foe Eagle Rock, which entered the playoffs undefeated.
The Spartans did their best to hang with the Alpha League-champion Spirits, but they could not pull the upset. La Cañada fell to Paraclete, 54-3, Friday night in its first postseason appearance since 2010.
An injury-riddled La Cañada (5-6) found itself trailing, 54-0, in the waning moments of the contest, but with 55 seconds remaining, Michael Selsor successfully kicked a 27-yard field goal to deny the Spirits the shutout.
“It still meant a lot to them to score and that’s what I’m trying to build,” La Cañada second-year Coach James Sims said. “They still worked their butts off. Those young [junior varsity] kids that got that ball down there are the same kids who are going to join our 16 returning starters [next year] to build a great football team.”
Key on the Spartans’ scoring drive was a 62-yard run down the left side by junior Donnie Breneman. Breneman finished with 13 carries for a team-high 93 yards.
“We put the JV in and they showed they could do something, so I’m optimistic for next year,” Breneman said.
Yards were as difficult for La Cañada to amass as points. In total, the Spartans had five players line up and take a snap from center, the most successful of whom was starter Robbie Fuelling, who was two of six for 22 yards. The senior’s 12-yard completion in the first quarter to Anthony Connell gained the initial first down for La Cañada.
The first half saw La Cañada fall behind quickly as Paraclete (7-4) built a 15-0 lead after one quarter. The Spartans were unable to get a first down on their first two possessions. The first points of the game came when Paraclete’s James Scanlan blocked Selsor’s punt attempt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Paraclete scored again on its second possession, covering 49 yards in just two plays, ending with a 29-yard touchdown pass to James Holland III from Brett Nelson for the first of the senior quarterback’s three first-half touchdowns.
In the second quarter, La Cañada tried to get creative on offense, leading to 22 Paraclete points. The Spartans’ first possession of the quarter ended when Connell threw an ill-advised halfback pass from near the sideline that fluttered in the air and was tipped before being intercepted by Kevin Davidson.
Fifteen plays later, after the Spartans defense had stopped Paraclete at the one-yard line three straight times, Melquise Stovall punched it in on fourth down.
On the Spartans’ next possession, they went for it on fourth down in their own territory with Breneman taking the direct snap out of the Wildcat formation, but he fumbled and the ball was recovered by Kohl Boyard. The Spirits soon turned that miscue into points with another touchdown pass by Nelson.
La Cañada’s next possession ended with an unsuccessful fake punt attempt as Selsor threw incomplete during the final minute of the second half. The Spirits quickly turned that into points when, with four seconds left, Chad Hall caught a 16-yard touchdown pass as well as the arm of Jadon Henry, who was in tight coverage in the end zone. The Spartans trailed, 37-0, at half.
Paraclete was led on the ground by Stovall, who rushed 11 times for 118 yards and two scores, although the sophomore also lost a fumble in the second quarter, which was recovered by Spartan Cole Reeb, one of two fumble recoveries for the La Cañada junior.
“We knew we were up against a big challenge, even without injuries,” Sims said. “So we did what we could do. We did the best that we could do.”