Highlanders soar past Hawks into Semis
La Habra Journal
La Habra’s balanced offensive attack and resilient red zone defense proved too much for Laguna Hills, despite a spirited effort in front of the Hawks’ home crowd Friday night.
For the first time in over a month, the Highlanders allowed a point, defeating Laguna Hills 42-14. Perhaps nearly as impressive though, the defensive unit held the Hawks scoreless on three separate drives with first-and-goal situations.
The Highlanders were ultimately just too big and fast down the stretch, but the Hawks put together a heady game plan early, keeping the game relatively close by utilizing veer running plays and mixing in short passes and screens. The strategy kept the Highlanders’ potent offense off the field for long stretches and helped to keep the aggressive Highlander defense off-balance.
“Everybody’s game plan against us has been to control the ball, keep it away from our offense and keep it out of Eric’s hands, but thank goodness our defense is good enough to make stops and they do,” said Frank Mazzotta, La Habra head coach.
Eric Barriere and C.J. Taylor combined to rush for over 300 yards, while Aman Fellows and Prince Ross both topped the century mark receiving.
Taylor got the Hawks attention early, carrying the ball down the field 75 yards on the first two plays of the game. Two plays later quarterback Eric Barriere grabbed a low snap that skipped across the turf and scrambled to turn it into a 6-yard touchdown run.
After the Highlander defense forced a punt, Eric Lancaster-Garcia’s return gave the Highlanders great field position. Taylor quickly got back to work and took the ball 54 yards for the score on the first play, giving La Habra the 14-0 lead with 7:02 remaining in the first quarter.
Laguna Hills answered back with a methodical five-minute, 67-yard drive down the field utilizing misdirection hand-offs to backs Sam Warren and Zac Crowe. The Hawks capped off the drive with a 4-yard pass from Mitchell O’Hair to Logan Montgomery.
Taylor continued his incredible play on the final drive of the first half, carrying the ball five times for 64 yards, including a 1-yard plunge into the end zone to stretch the lead to 21-7. The Highlanders’ workhorse running back went into the break with 193 yards on the ground and two scores.
With less than 30 seconds in the half and the ball on the 10, Laguna Hills had an excellent opportunity to go into the half down by only one score. However, La Habra stuffed a couple running plays, then Jacob Jones came on a blitz and sacked O’Hair. The Hawks went for a chip shot field goal, but the Highlanders came up with the block.
Jones said that the Hawks made some big plays when players got out of position, but the team stayed confident because they all prepared to defend goal line situations at practice.
“When we got down to the red zone where the [La Habra] defense could really pin their ears back, it made it more challenging for us,” Jones said
The Highlanders took the opening drive of the second half 61 yards on four plays, scoring on a 5-yard pass from Barriere to Ross. The touchdown was setup with a 41-yard improvised run by Barriere, with the wide receivers holding their blocks down the field.
O’Hair scored on a 2-yard naked-bootleg to keep the game interesting. The score came two plays after a controversial call on fourth-and-one inside the 5-yard-line, in which the referees changed their call from a turnover-on-downs, to a first down for the Hawks retaining possession at the 3-yard-line.
The Highlanders pushed the lead to 35-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Barriere connected with Ross on a 54-yard catch and run for the touchdown.
After an interception by defensive back Khailand Johnson, Barriere put the game well out of reach when he connected with Fellows for a 52-yard touchdown.
“I knew I was going to get the ball, so I just wanted to get my offense back on the field to put some more points on the board, 35 isn’t enough,” Johnson said.
After blowing teams out early the past few weeks, the Highlanders first unit offense played its first full game in more than a month.
Barriere finished with 237 yards— three touchdowns passing, and 113 yards— one touchdown rushing.
“Coming into the second round we knew we were going to be playing a better team, but once it clicked in the second half we proved we were the better team,” Barriere said.
His top targets tonight were Ross with six catches for 105 yards—two touchdowns, and Fellows who finished with four catches for 102 yards—one touchdown.
Taylor finished the night with 15 carries for 226 yards— two touchdowns on the ground.
The Hawks came up short, but took pride in how far the team came this season. Last year the Hawks finished the season with only one win. Despite the loss tonight, Laguna Hills (8-4) had an impressive turnaround.
“Coming off of last year’s 1-9 season, I couldn’t imagine being with a group of more motivated guys,” O’Hair said. “I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my senior season.”
O’Hair finished with 173 yards—one touchdown and added a rushing touchdown. The Hawks leading receiver was Montgomery with 82 yards—one touchdown.
The Highlanders (11-1) will be moving on to play Villa Park (12-0) in the CIF-SS Semifinals next Friday at home, kickoff will be at 7 p.m.