Posted on 09 November 2013 by La Habra Journal
Receiver Noah Evans and quarterback Ryan Esslinger (shown against Valley Christian) connected 10 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns against Cerritos, Friday night.
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Hoping to strengthen its chance at an at-large berth into the CIF-SS Northwest Division playoffs, the Whittier Christian football team lit up the scoreboard to the tune of a 60-44 nonleague win over Cerritos, Friday night at Whittier College.
A near replica of the Heralds’ home win from two weeks ago, the Heralds forced and recovered two key fumbles in the third quarter, which allowed the offense to jump ahead.
Quarterback Ryan Esslinger led the way, completing 20-of-24 passes with three touchdowns. He ran the ball nine times for 81 yards and two additional touchdowns.
Again, Esslinger’s favorite target was Noah Evans, who caught 10 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
“They were playing off of us so we knew we could get them on the short passes early and then get a deep pass or two,” Evans said. “Coming in, that was our gameplan as well as pounding it with Nick [Watase] and it worked out tonight.”
Nick Watase added two scores and led the rushing attack with 141 yards on 13 carries.
With the score deadlocked, 28-28 at halftime, the Heralds made a key adjustment in slowing down a Cerritos ground game that finished with a total of 505 yards.
“We were playing a six-man front and the only adjustment we made was to move our outside linebackers about a yard or two off the line of scrimmage,” said Sergio Gradilla, Whittier Christian head coach. “They were getting washed up in the crowd in the first half, but the adjustment allowed them to read plays and make their moves.”
The adjustment led to two fumbles on the Dons’ first two possessions of the second half. Whittier Christian turned the two turnovers into seven points, giving the Heralds a 42-28 lead.
They stretched it as far as 57-36 when Esslinger hit Derek Brush for an 11-yard score with the first play of the fourth quarter.
Jack Huitt led all defenders with 19 total tackles, while Ryan Senn recorded a sack and a fumble recovery.
“We knew we had to keep pounding the ball,” Huitt said. “The halftime adjustment was huge, but our thought process was that this could be our last game, so let’s lay it all out there.”
Both offenses let it all hang out right from the start. Of the combined nine drives by both teams in the first half, eight ended in touchdowns, with the Heralds picking up a defensive stop in the second quarter.
Cerritos senior LaMarr Crowder scored on a 78-yard run on the second play from scrimmage. He finished the game with 330 yards on 35 carries, scoring on runs of 32, 12 and 12 yards.
Watase scored the first two touchdowns for Whittier Christian on runs of 17 and five yards. Esslinger added a 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Whittier Christian looked poised to take a halftime lead after Esslinger hit Evans for a 51-yard touchdown with 1:40 remaining in the half.
However, two defensive penalties allowed Cerritos to keep the drive alive and with one second remaining, quarterback Ki’Jon Washington scrambled right and found the endzone on a 12-yard run.
The ensuing two-point conversion tied the game.
Esslinger and Watase added touchdown runs in the third quarter and Evans caught a 17-yard touchdown pass on a bubble screen while the defense forced the two turnovers.
“[Offensive linemen] Kyle Slajer and Ryan Schemmer laid down some great blocks for me,” Evans said of his touchdown reception. “It was easy to follow them and find my way into the endzone.”
Brush added a late 42-yard field goal to lead to the final score.
Washington added 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Cerritos.
“My thinking was that if we got the stops, we would be able to keep scoring,” Gradilla said. “That was the point we would take over the game, thankfully we got those fumbles. That made the difference.”
The Heralds will find out whether they receive an at-large bid or not Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We did our job by winning tonight,” Gradilla said. “That makes things tougher on the CIF, we’ve lost to some pretty good football teams. We know we’ll be on the road against a top team in the first round if we get in, but we’d be happy to have at least one more week together as a team, so that’s what we’re hoping.”