Sports

Fumbles, flat second-half play doom Raiders

By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

After a back-and-forth first half that left the Sonora football team with a minimal deficit, the Raiders fumbled the victory away in the second half, falling to Canyon 34-20 at home Friday night.

Sonora came up with critical responses to the Comanches’ two touchdowns in the first half, but after the break, three fumbles on the receiving end of two kickoffs and a punt allowed Canyon to dominate the time of possession.

“You can’t turn the ball over and win high school games and that’s what we need to get better at,” said Paul Chiotti, Sonora head coach. “In two of our three games, it’s really cost us.”

Running back Matt Villasenor scored all three Raiders touchdowns and gained 142 yards on 14 carries.

However, Villasenor was outdone by the duo of Troy Kurtz and Rob MallenWest on the opposite side. Kurtz rushed for 183 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns and MallenWest added 19 carries and 143 yards as the Comanches ate up yards and valuable clock time.

“The offensive line was fantastic tonight,” said Brent McKee, Canyon head coach. “They had to be, they play both sides of the ball. It was a battle of attrition with the heat and they stepped up. Our guys just kept finding holes.”

Because of the fumbles, Sonora only had two possessions in the second half.

“Tonight, we just didn’t make plays when we needed to, Canyon got physical on us,” Chiotti said. “We couldn’t tackle and move them backwards, we just didn’t come up with the play when we needed it, but I’m proud of the kids for trying to fight through all of it.”

After a three-and-out by Sonora, the Comanches put together a long drive that took over six minutes to complete. Kurtz paced the Comanches before quarterback Corey Elsasser scored on a two-yard keeper.

The Raiders came back with a 81-yard drive of their own featuring some big gains by Villasenor, who totaled 69 yards rushing on the drive, including a 10-yard touchdown run to finish it off.

Kurtz would add a five-yard touchdown run capping the ensuing 82-yard drive for Canyon, but Villasenor added a two-yard touchdown on Sonora’s next possession. However, a blocked extra point by Nathan Arellano would leave the Raiders a 14-13 deficit.

Marshel Gleason hit a 30-yard field goal for Canyon, which took a 17-13 lead into the half.

“I was proud of the way our offense fared in the first half, the problem was, we couldn’t get them the ball enough,” Chiotti said. “I was proud of the way we moved the ball in the first half, Matt [Villasenor] ran the ball very well tonight, he’s a special kid.”

However, in the second half, the Comanches would literally keep the ball away from Sonora thanks to the special teams miscues. The Raiders also fumbled the ball away on an exchange from quarterback Kyle Mahlstede to running back Brandon Rios.

On the other side, cornerback Uche Anusiem came up with an interception on a trick play and Edgar Mendez recovered a Canyon fumble.

But that’s about all that would go the way of the Raiders in the second half. Canyon held the ball for the first 8:27 of the half on two possessions after Sonora muffed a kickoff.

“Special teams was definitely the difference tonight,” McKee said. “I’m proud of our kids, we came in thin due to injuries, but the guys we had got it done, it’s the best I’ve seen them this season.”

In those two possessions, Canyon scored 10 points on a 10-yard run by Kurtz and a 26-yard field goal by Gleason.

Sonora would cash in on Anusiem’s interception with a five-yard touchdown run by Villasenor.

Anusiem also assisted in an earlier scoring drive with a 50-yard kickoff return.

Canyon capped the scoring when fullback Zach Williams recovered a MallenWest fumble in the end zone with just over a minute remaining.

“We were very happy with the second half because we were having trouble stopping them early,” McKee said. “Special teams kept giving us the ball and we just took it.”

The Raiders were on the receiving end of a high number of penalty flags, including three penalties of 10 or more yards against the offense on the same drive. Sonora would still score a touchdown on the drive.

Sonora moves on to play Rancho Alamitos on the road next Thursday.

“When it comes down to it, you have to try to control things that you can control,” Chiotti said. “Tonight we just couldn’t make the plays we needed.”

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Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.