A pair of costly turnovers late by the Highlanders sealed the victory for the Diablos.
By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal
The La Habra Highlanders took advantage of home field early looking to make it three straight wins to start the season on Friday night, but a resilient Mission Viejo team fought back and secured their own plan to stay unbeaten 24-14.
Following back-to-back blowout victories to begin the season, the Highlanders (2-1) looked like they were picking up right where they left off. The offense moved the ball seamlessly down the field on the 80-yard opening drive that finished with a 10-yard sweep by running back Cortlin Taylor strolling untouched into the end zone to put them on the scoreboard.
The Diablos (4-0) answered back with an equally impressive drive just a few minutes later, finished off with a similar sweep right by Jordan Loya for the 14 yard score to tie the game.
With the game tied in the second quarter, both defenses began to tighten up.
Quarterback Eric Barriere drove the Highlanders inside the 10-yard line, but on third and goal tossed an errant throw into the back of the end zone that the Diablos picked off.
The La Habra defense erased the turnover, forcing Mission Viejo to punt after just three downs.
The Diablos forced a Barriere fumble on the next possession, giving the Diablos the ball at midfield.
Trying to cash in on the turnover, Mission Viejo moved the ball all the way to the 6-yard-line setting up a first and goal. However, the Highlanders defense stiffened up as at least four different blue and white jerseys swarmed quarterback Brock Johnson for the sack on third down, forcing a 35-yard field goal seconds before the half expired.
The Diablos caught the Highlanders flat footed after halftime with an 80-yard strike from Johnson to wide receiver Austin Osborne for the touchdown, extending their lead 17-7.
La Habra answered back with a 12-play drive capped by a slant into the end zone from Barriere to wide receiver Gio Pavon bringing them with a field goal at 17-14.
On the Diablos next drive, Johnson got into a rhythm with wide receiver Jason Lee, connecting with him on four straight. However, on a critical fourth and eight, inside the red zone, Jacob Colacion stepped in front of Lee and picked Johnson off.
With four minutes to play, the Diablos pinned the Highlanders back on the 3-yard-line with a perfectly executed corner punt. La Habra was within a touchdown of the lead with just enough time for a miracle comeback.
Before the Highlanders drive even got started, Diablos linebacker Colin Shooler jumped in front of a routine check down throw to the flat by Barriere and took it 27 yards into the end zone, all but sealing the victory for the visitors.
Highlanders Head Coach Frank Mazzotta said he was disappointed, but realized the game would have been much different if his team would have cleaned up just a couple mistakes.
“The difference in the game was the turnovers by us and we didn’t catch a few balls that we should have,” Mazzotta said.
It appears La Habra could be closing the gap. The last time La Habra and Mission Viejo met, the Diablos ran away with it 49-20. Tonight was a much different type of contest.
“It’s always encouraging to see our guys come out and play tough and physical like they did tonight,” Mazzotta said, “but we have to correct the mistakes if we want to be a great team.”