Highlanders hit 45 on Freeway
By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal
The Highlanders set a new Orange County record for consecutive league victories with its shutout win its 42-0 win over Troy at home Friday night.
The Highlanders unprecedented 45-game Freeway League winning streak, which began in 2006, bested the mark set by Mission Viejo in 2007.
“It’s awesome to be a part of an Orange County record, I mean how many people get to say that in their lifetime,” said Frank Mazzotta, La Habra head coach.
Coincidentally, the Highlanders last Freeway League defeat came at the hands of the Warriors almost a decade ago. This week the Warriors were the unlucky recipients attached to the Highlanders record-breaking game.
For the second week in a row, the Highlanders put the game out of reach before halftime and finished with another shutout.
“We are confident, our whole team—we had no doubt that we were going to win this game tonight,” said Eric Lancaster-Garcia, wide receiver.
The Highlander defense paved the way once again, blanketing the field from sideline to sideline and delivering jarring hits all night long. The defensive unit held the Warriors to just 169 yards passing and 77 yards rushing the entire game.
Defensive end Leo Lomeli credited the coaches for putting a lot of time into making sure the defense is prepared each week. Lomeli said that the hours they log in the weight room have definitely changed their physicality too.
“We work on speed training every day at practice– our tempo gets faster and it translates to the field,” Lomeli said.
Quarterback Eric Barriere got the scoring started on the Highlanders opening drive with a 23-yard strike to a wide-open Prince Ross, who made a perfect over the shoulder grab just past the goal line.
La Habra scored one more time before the end of the quarter on a 2-yard plunge by C. J. Taylor, setup by a pair of 22-yard runs by Ross and Madison Wheeler.
Wide receiver Amon Fellows joined the party with an incredible catch and run from 27 yards out, breaking three tackles inside the 5-yard-line before stretching past the goal line.
Lancaster-Garcia provided a spark with a special teams score for the second consecutive week. The senior wide receiver’s 54-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter put the Highlanders ahead 28-0.
“Actually we have been waiting for [Lancaster-Garcia] to get another one of those [return touchdowns] and he has the last two weeks, he’s got great speed and now we just need to unleash him a little more in the passing game,” Mazzotta said.
Lancaster-Garcia said that he is happy that he was able to contribute and credited the blocking for the big plays the past couple weeks.
“I have amazing blockers and amazing teammates, we’re like brothers,” Lancaster-Garcia said.
Troy came close to scoring on two consecutive series late in the third quarter.
Ryan Scotti gave the Warriors great field position with his 61-yard kickoff return, down to the La Habra 23-yard-line. A couple plays later, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the Highlanders gave the Warriors a first down at the 12.
The Highlander defense did not bow another inch, forcing a turnover on downs right at the 12.
Just a few plays later with the Highlander second unit offense in the game, the Warriors caught a break. La Habra quarterback Zach Fogel attempted a quick kick on fourth down, but missed the ball, ultimately giving the Warriors possession inside the red zone.
Troy ended up with a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, but once again, the Highlander defense refused top budge. Running back Cole Thomas tried to go off-tackle left, but Wheeler came up to fill the hole quickly and make the stop.
Wheeler also shined on offense. The two-way player added 67 total yards of offense, with 47 of them coming on a touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Much like last week, the Highlanders pulled the first unit offense after the opening drive of the second half. Despite the early exit, the Highlander offense put up 358 total yards.
Barriere finished with 168 yards passing with three touchdowns and 67 yards rushing. The senior quarterback said that he had to thank all of the past players for putting them in the position to break the record tonight.
Taylor carried the bulk of the running game, finishing with 71 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Fellows caught three passes for 40 yards and a score. His counterpart, Ross had three catches for 61 yards and a score.
The Highlanders (9-1, 5-0) will enter the CIF playoffs next week. The matchup will be announced Sunday, and La Habra should be a No. 1 seed.