Sports

Raiders surge late but fall to Tritons

Erik Markus
La Habra Journal

The Raiders gave the San Clemente Tritons a scare on Friday night, but ultimately fell 52-45.

LHJ Sonora vs SC FB

The Tritons went into the game ranked as the second seed in the CIF Southern Section Division playoffs. But after the Raiders collected their third onside kick, with momentum already in their favor, the Raiders had a chance to force overtime.

The Raiders’ comeback attempt came up short, with Cole McDonald’s Hail Mary pass underthrown to Steven Riley and intercepted by Kevin Kling.

“This is a special group, it’s a shame it has got to end,” Chiotti said.

San Clemente would drain the remainder of the clock and escape with a second round victory.

“I’m proud of these guys, these guys battled out and we came back. I mean, San Clemente, hats off to them, they’re a damn good team man. I’m just proud that our guys battled and stepped up to the challenge,” Julian Orozco said.

The Tritons held the lead through the entire second half, but a mental mistake by the kickoff returner in the fourth quarter gave the Raiders the second wind they needed to climb back into the game.

“He had a moment of unclarity. It’s a lesson learned, and thankfully we can move on,” San Clemente head coach Jaime Ortiz said.

LHJ Sonora vs SC FB

The Tritons went into the fourth quarter leading 38-28. The defense was able to sack McDonald on third down, forcing the Raiders to punt.

Starting with the ball on the 28 yard line, the Tritons swiftly drove down field, scoring on a 43 yard pass to Liam Eldridge. The touchdown gave the Tritons a 17 point lead and momentum with less than 10 minutes to play.

The Raiders needed a spark if they wanted to keep their keep their season going.

Moving quickly, the Raiders moved down field with a balance between sideline throws to Riley and Jason Clayton, and running between McDonald and Jacob Fimbres. The senior running back  finished off the drive with a 1 yard touchdown run.

“(McDonald) and Fimbres have been our two dynamic players and you know they made a lot of plays tonight and they’ve done that all year,” Chiotti said.

With 6:32 to play, the Tritons were lined up expecting an onside kick. Kicker, Carlos Flores sent a pooch kick towards to San Clemente, but rather than collecting the bouncing ball, the Tritons’ returner kept his distance.

San Clemente, not realizing the ball was live, allowed the Raiders to pile on top of the ball on  the Tritons’ 11 yard line.

The Raiders were fired up, knowing this was the break they would need to put a dent into the San Clemente lead. 4 plays later, Fimbres hopped over the line, into the end zone to bring the Raiders within a field goal.

LHJ Sonora vs SC FB

But with the Raiders needing a stop, San Clemente drove 83 yards for a touchdown to bring their lead back to 10.

“We just couldn’t come up with the key stop at the end, they were to kind of run out the clock on us,” Chiotti said.

The Raiders were able to respond with a field goal. Then collected their third onside kick. But with a minute to play the Raiders were unable to create the last scoring drive necessary to send a final knockout blow to the Tritons.

“We had them on the ropes, we just couldn’t get that last little play,” Chiotti said.

The Tritons victory allows them to continue on, with a date with their third Freeway league team, Buena Park who beat Corona del Mar 35-17. The Tritons will host that game next Friday.

“We told our kids at halftime that the second half was going to be won during the summer with the conditioning,” Ortiz said “I think our offensive line kind of imposed their will late in the game and we had an opportunity to score.

The Triton’s road to a CIF title may need to go through the Freeway league, having knocked out Sunny Hills and Sonora, and Buena Park and La Habra still alive.

“Our league was tremendous this year, they’re some very talented teams this year, and I think our team was one of them.

For Sonora, they remaining teams are a tribute to the strength of the Freeway league, which molded and tested the Raiders for their playoff run.

LHJ Sonora vs SC FB

“We do it the Sonora way, and that’s with hard work and our local kids,” Chiotti said.

“For Sonora and La Habra to have as many great athletes as they do, it’s a testament to the city of La Habra, they’re a tough football team, and the kids battled the entire game,” Ortiz said.

After the game, many Raiders were emotional, but were surrounded by their friends and family.

“We had a good year, it will probably be the last time I ever play with my friends again,” Fimbres said.

While many of the players were disappointed with the way things ended, they all knew this was still an accomplishment.

“If you can get into the quarterfinals, get a home playoff game, it’s a special year. It’s a great accomplishment,” Chiotti said.

The end of this season also marks the end of many of this team’s contributors.

“Sometimes you have to suffer a little defeat, that ends your season and your career for some of these seniors, but these guys have come together, these guys have battled.” Chiotti said “I think they take away the key things, the values the characteristics we’re trying to instill. Hard work, dedication to each other, and ultimately, that’s what I know these guys are going to take away.”

Chiotti has seen this group of players grow and mature to develop to this point.

LHJ Sonora vs SC FB

“They took their lumps as sophomores, they learned and improved last year as juniors, and this year they put together a great year,” Chiotti said.

The Raiders will now look to their juniors and other emerging players as they brace for next season.

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