by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
BISHOP – Battling high heat and dry conditions, the Whittier Christian football team looked more at home than its counterpart in a 41-20 nonleague victory over Bishop Union, Friday night at Bishop Union High School.
Using a no-huddle offense, quarterback Ryan Esslinger completed 28-40 passes for 302 touchdowns, but it was the ground game and special teams that accounted for all the Heralds points.
Junior receiver Noah Evans was the primary target, hauling in 12 passes for 161 yards. Nick Watase and Kevin Hoskins caught seven passes each.
“We’re going to wear other teams down with our tempo, especially if they have guys going both ways,” said Sergio Gradilla, Whittier Christian head coach. “We tell our guys it’s going to pay off in the fourth quarter and that’s what happened tonight.”
With the scored tied after the first quarter, Derek Brush hit field goals of 45, 40, and 35 yards to give the Heralds a first-half lead. He hit another field goal in the second half.
Back-up running back Michael Cajera gave Whittier Christian a 23-7 halftime lead with a 5-yard run up the middle.
“Over the summer and even in spring, [Derek] was kicking everyday, we told him his hard work was going to pay off,” Gradilla said. “We want to get touchdowns when we get inside, but knowing we can guarantee three points, it’s a great feeling.”
When the Broncos pushed the score to within six points in the third quarter, Whittier Christian put the game away with two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter on scoring runs by Esslinger and Watase.
From the start, the Heralds looked strong offensively, needing only 2:40 to score the game’s first touchdown.
Esslinger connected with his first four passes and running back David Fischer capped the 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Fischer finished with 72 yards on 16 carries.
The Heralds then added 16 points in the second quarter, 10 of which came after a forced fumble and recovery by Austin Gray and an interception by outside linebacker Mitchell Neller.
Defensively, safety Dylan Murphy led the charge with nine tackles.
“We are so much improved on defense compared to last year,” Gradilla said. “I think experience has helped, guys aren’t thinking about it, they’re just flying to the football.”
However, in the third quarter, Bishop Union made a statement. Trailing 26-7, the Broncos put together two successful scoring drives, both capped by wide receiver Noah Stevens with touchdown runs of three and 27 yards.
Stevens scored three touchdowns and finished with 143 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
Seeing their lead shrunk to six points, the Heralds turned up the pressure on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter. Esslinger capped a drive midway through the quarter with a seven yard rushing touchdown.
With less than two minutes remaining, Watase scored on an end around, using his blazing speed to burst up the sideline for a 15-yard score to lead to the game’s final score.
“Some of our guys didn’t have the best scrimmage last week, Noah and Nick included, but we saw tonight that they can definitely make plays,” Gradilla said. “I’m really proud of the way our guys performed tonight.”
Whittier Christian has another road game next Friday against Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary in Montebello. Last season, the Heralds trounced the Cardinals 49-6.