Sports

Highlanders battle, check Lions off the list

By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal

Photo by Paul Luna
Photo by Paul Luna — La Habra’s Madison Wheeler pushes through a Lions defender as the Highlanders beat Oaks Christian in CIF playoffs Friday night on the road. Wheeler had 233 yards on 37 carries.

The La Habra football team entered the opening round of CIF in an unfamiliar position, as an underdog on the road, but that didn’t stop the Highlanders from doing what they have done for 18 years under Frank Mazzotta, win CIF playoff games.

 

The Highlanders saved their best showing of the season for when in counted, upsetting No. 3 Oaks Christian 35-28 at Westlake Village Friday night.

In a game that had been blow-for-blow from the onset La Habra found itself on the road, down a score with under four minutes to go.

Trailing 28-21 and facing a 4th-and-7, quarterback Zach Fogel scrambled out of the pocket and made an Aaron Rogers-like jump throw across his body, connecting with Derrick Corso who cut all the way back across the field for a 17-yard score to tie the game with 3:18 to play.

Alex Alcocer continued turning the tide in La Habra’s favor when he picked off Matt Corral on the following possession, setting up the game winning score.

Photo by Paul Luna
Photo by Paul Luna — La Habra Quarterback Zach Fogel looks for an open receiver. The Highlanders beat Oaks Christian on the road Friday in the first round of CIF playoffs.

Fogel took the first snap, read the triple-option perfectly and found Prince Ross wide open in the back of the end zone from 21 yards out to give La Habra the lead with a couple minutes left.

Despite the one score lead, there was still plenty of time left for a Corral led passing attack that had already burned the Highlanders on big plays all game long.

Enter Mr. Corso. Already owning a pair of touchdown catches on offense, the senior shifted his playmaking skills to the defensive side for his third act. On the Lions ensuing drive, Corso picked off Corral at midfield with :45 left to seal the hardfought victory for the Highlanders some 67 miles away from home.

The Highlanders picked off the Corral three times Friday night, which is newsworthy considering the USC commit had only thrown three all season coming into the game. Isaac Soto Morales’ interception just before halftime set up the Highlanders third score.

Madison Wheeler carried the Highlander offense on his back to the tune of 160 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Lions knew Wheeler was going to get the ball, but just couldn’t stop the two-way workhorse.

Photo by Paul Launa
Photo by Paul Launa — Senior Receiver Prince Ross pulls down a Zach Fogel pass in the end zone for the Highlanders’ go-ahead score against Oaks Christian Friday in Westlake Village.

Wheeler’s dominance running the ball early allowed Fogel to pick the Lions apart in critical situations the rest of the way. He finished with a whopping 233 yards on 37 carries.

Fogel finished with four touchdowns on the night (3 pass, 1 rush), and seemed to make the right decisions all night long.

For the past three weeks, Mazzotta has talked about his quarterback’s steady improvement, pointing out Fogel’s 4.8 GPA and toughness.

Even when the junior quarterback made a mistake, it helped the Highlanders. Fogel’s lone interception came on a 4th-and-long play with nobody open downfield, so it basically amounted to a 20-yard punt instead of a sack or incomplete pass.

Prince Ross caught the go-ahead touchdown pass and had 136 total yards.

La Habra (7-4) will travel about the same distance, but in the opposite direction to play Redlands East Valley (9-2), next Friday at 7:30 p.m. Redlands is coming off a 41-30 opening round win over Great Oak.

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