Posted on 02 November 2013 by La Habra Journal
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
PASADENA – For the second straight week, allowing big plays proved to be an Achilles heel for the Whittier Christian football team in a 34-24 loss at the hands of Maranatha, Friday night at Maranatha High.
Last week, the Heralds overcame four touchdowns of 40 yards or more to defeat Heritage Christian.
However, the Minutemen stuffed Whittier Christian’s rushing attack and forced quarterback Ryan Esslinger to beat them through the air.
Maranatha’s stingy defense forced three second-half turnovers by the Heralds and Minutemen quarterback Eli Snyder threw three second-half touchdowns to turn a two-point deficit into a 10-point win.
“Our kids played their hearts out, we just couldn’t overcome our injuries,” said Sergio Gradilla, Whittier Christian head coach. “We have so many key guys out and it’s not an excuse, our guys played hard and we had a chance to pull it out, we just couldn’t get it done.”
Overall, it was a frustrating night for the Heralds (5-4, 2-2), who lost both a chance at a shared league title and a guaranteed playoff spot with the loss.
Esslinger completed nine-of-27 passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, but threw three interceptions, two of which were tipped into the hands of Maranatha defenders.
A week after rushing for 323 yards on 57 carries, Nick Watase saw limited play due to a minor ankle injury. He finished with 13 carries for 38 yards.
Once again, the Heralds started off quickly, scoring on their first two drives, which were aided by defensive personal fouls.
On a 4th-and-goal play, Esslinger found Jack Huitt for a five-yard score.
But Maranatha responded immediately when running back Caleb Devine raced 76 yards up the left sideline for a touchdown. Devine finished with 18 carries for 104 yards and also caught a touchdown pass.
Michael Cajero capped Whittier Christian’s ensuing drive with a five-yard touchdown run and Derek Brush added a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter to put the Heralds up 16-7.
However, the Minutemen (7-2, 3-0) would head into halftime with momentum after Snyder scrambled to the left and threw a deep ball that was caught by Joseph Karavedas while falling out of bounds. The referees awarded the 35-yard touchdown after seeing that the pylon was knocked over, bringing the halftime score to 16-14.
“There were four big plays that they had that killed us, just absolutely killed us,” Gradilla said.
Maranatha scored on its first two drives of the third quarter on a 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Devine and a 34-yard touchdown reception by Darron McWhorter, which gave the hosts a 27-16 lead.
On McWhorter’s touchdown grab, Snyder scrambled to his right, looked back and found his receiver wide open on the left side, making it an easy touchdown play.
Snyder completed 18-of-30 passes for 273 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions for the Minutemen. Both interceptions were caught by Cooper Hughes in the first half.
“We had talked about it all week that this was a big-play team,” Gradilla said. “We couldn’t give up the big plays and we had to make them drive. When the quarterback scrambles, we had guys that didn’t stay where they were supposed to be.”
The Heralds responded early in the fourth quarter as Esslinger hit Noah Evans for a 16-yard touchdown. Evans led Whittier Christian with four catches for 44 yards.
Esslinger then hit Brush for the two-point conversion to put the Heralds within three points.
But that’s as close as Whittier Christian got. With just over three minutes to play, Snyder found Aidan Yamada for a 10-yard touchdown.
Esslinger was intercepted on a tipped ball by Devine on the ensuing possession, which allowed Maranatha to run down the clock.
Dexter Myers hauled in the other two interceptions for the Minutemen.
Whittier Christian will close out the regular season with a home game against Cerritos at Whittier College, next Friday night.
Gradilla and the team will then have to hope for an at-large bid into the CIF-SS Northwest Division playoffs.
“We have to beat Cerritos, they’re a good physical team,” Gradilla said. “After that it’s up to the CIF to determine if we deserve an at-large, but we’re hoping. We’ll have to wait and see.”