Sports

Highlanders tame Wildcats to advance to semifinal game

By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal

Highlighted by a stifling first half and a pair of late interceptions, the La Habra defense

La Habra's Madison Wheeler brushes off a Wildcat defender during the Higlanders' 31-21 victory at home Friday.
Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal                   La Habra’s Madison Wheeler brushes off a Wildcat defender during the Higlanders’ 31-21 victory at home Friday.

frustrated another prolific offense Friday night, defeating Redlands East Valley 31-21 to advance to the CIF semifinals.

La Habra took the lead on the opening drive and never relinquished it, thanks to a suffocating defense that forced REV to a three-and-out on all-but two drives in the first half.

The Highlanders took a commanding 24-7 lead into the break, after limiting the Wildcats to just 15 yards on the ground and quarterback Armando Herrera to just 87 yards and one touchdown through the air in the first half.

“We have the best defensive coordinators in the nation, I really believe that,” said linebacker Camron Rivas, the Highlanders leading tackler. “Every week he puts together a great gameplan.”

Just six plays into the game, quarterback Zach Fogel tossed a zero screen to Pervis Henderson, who made one man miss and blazed down the sideline for a 69-yard score.

Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal          La Habra Quarterback Zach Fogel throws downfield to a receiver.
Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal                                                  La Habra Quarterback Zach Fogel throws downfield to a receiver.

The next possession saw Fogel toss another zero screen for a big gain. This time it was Derrick Corso taking one 35 yards to set up his eventual score from 11 yards out.

Scoring on the first two drives of the game was all attributed to my coaching, and their ability to come out with a plan that works,” Fogel said. “That’s what our coaches are so good at, they know exactly what to do at what time.”

Fogel to executed an intelligent game plan with quick passes and a lot of read option plays to neutralize two of the best pass rushers in the country, Jaelan Phillips and Aaron House.

“We have a motto, it’s not about who you are playing, it’s about who you are,” Fogel said.

Phillips and House entered the game with a combined 34 sacks. House notched the only sack for the duo all night, but the play was negated by a facemask penalty.

Head coach Frank Mazzotta said afterward that he knew coming into the season that Fogel was a tough kid with a great work ethic, but he has seen his quarterback’s decision making and intelligence on the field steadily improve throughout the season.

Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal       La Habra sophomore cornerback Kalani Washington launches as Wildcat defender in La Habra's 31-21 win Friday.
Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal        La Habra sophomore cornerback Kalani Washington launches as Wildcat defender in La Habra’s 31-21 win Friday.

The Highlander defense put the game away for good after forcing turnovers on three consecutive series.

“La Habra always has a good defense, but this team is doing something special,” Fogel said.

Alan Giron sealed the victory with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter.

Marcus Carrasco blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt and for good measure, Isaiah Alcocer picked off Herrera in the back of the end zone on the Wildcats next two possessions.

Fogel finished the game with 204 yards(190 coming in the first half), and two touchdowns.

Madison Wheeler rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown, while the entire Wildcat team only gained 46 yards on the ground.

Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal.  La Habra runningback Madison Wheeler pushes off Wildcat defender in La Habra's 31-21 victory over Redlands East Vallet Firday.
Photo by Jay Seidel/La Habra Journal.                  La Habra runningback Madison Wheeler pushes off Wildcat defender in La Habra’s 31-21 victory over Redlands East Valley Firday.

Following the tough loss to Buena Park, Mazzotta pointed out how the team would learn from their defeat and get better. Since then, the Highlanders have played by far their best football of the season.

“A loss doesn’t define us,” Mazzotta added. “One thing the kids do is show up everyday, they work hard and try to get better every day.”

La Habra (8-4) will host the semifinal matchup against Murrieta Valley next Friday at 7 p.m. No. 2 Murrieta Valley (10-2) is coming off 63-34 blowout over St. Bonaventure. No. 14 La Habra is the lowest seed to make the semifinal round in all of CIF.

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