Highlanders blank Lancers
By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal
The Highlanders extended their Freeway League dominance with a shutout victory over Sunny Hills Friday night at Spalding Stadium.
With the defense refusing to give an inch all game long, the Highlanders 35-0 lead before halftime was more than enough to put the game out of reach.
La Habra got major contributions from all three phases of the game early on.
Eric Lancaster-Garcia sparked the Highlanders before the crowd at Spalding Stadium could take their seats, returning the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
The senior wide receiver added a another score in the second quarter when quarterback Eric Barriere rolled out to the right, avoiding pressure and threw a 22-yard strike to Lancaster-Garcia on a seam route into the end zone.
The Highlander defense showed up early and often, taking up residence in the Lancers backfield regularly. La Habra set the tone in the first quarter, holding the Lancer offense to a total of three yards on six plays through their first two series.
The Highlander defense remained relentless all night and confined Sunny Hills to 135 total yards in the game.
Defensive back Eli Anderson had an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown negated by an illegal block in the back. The net of the play was still a 60-yard return, which setup a 5-yard touchdown run by Barriere.
Barriere spread the ball around to six different receivers in the first half and finished the night with 204 yards passing, 53 yards rushing and four total touchdowns. With a big lead, Barriere and the first team offense only played one series in the second half.
C.J. Taylor had a light workload again this week, but made big plays when he got the opportunity. Taylor finished with six touches for a total of 148 yards with one touchdown.
Highlanders Head Coach Frank Mazzotta said that Taylor is looking faster than ever and explained why.
“Running backs have to get into a rhythm, we don’t run the ball all summer it’s all passing league, so it takes him a couple games to get into a rhythm and I think he’s finding his rhythm.”
Taylor was instrumental during the Highlanders final scoring drive, breaking three consecutive plays of over 25 yards. His big plays setup a 5-yard touchdown from Barriere to Prince Ross.
“I am starting to understand my [running plays] a lot better and that helps me hit the hole faster so that I can get to the next level,” Taylor said. “It’s like second nature now.”
The Lancer defense found some success pressuring the quarterback by mixing in blitz packages. Linebacker David Cabral got to Barriere for three sacks.
Lancer quarterback Malcom Dixon finished the game with 103 total yards, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the Lancers yards from scrimmage.
Sunny Hills best chance to score came in the second quarter, when they had first and goal from the 9-yard-line. However, they failed to advance the ball on four consecutive plays and turned the ball over on downs.
Despite the big night, one area the Highlanders struggled with again was catching the ball consistently. They dropped a handful passes on plays that potentially would have been uncontested scores.
Mazzotta said that it’s something they work on every day at practice and a lot of times it comes down to guys getting so wide open that they start thinking touchdown before they secure the football.
The Highlanders are riding an unprecedented Freeway League winning streak that spans all the way back to 2006.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate— I’m very grateful for all the boys that have played here,” Mazzotta said. “The kids work really hard and I’ve got great coaches working with them.”
La Habra (8-1, 4-0) will play its final regular season game at their Homecoming game against Troy (4-5, 2-2) next Friday at 6 p.m.