Posted on 14 September 2013 by La Habra Journal
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
In a tale of two completely different halves, the Whittier Christian football team erased a 13-point second half deficit to defeat Whittier 27-20, Friday night at Whittier College.
After one half of football, the Heralds looked out of sync, with receivers dropping six passes, while quarterback Ryan Esslinger missed most of the second quarter with a bruised right knee.
However, Esslinger returned in the second half to throw a touchdown pass, while the defense came up with three takeaways and linebacker Jack Huitt found the endzone for a second straight week, this time on a fumble recovery that he returned 28 yards for a touchdown.
“I’ve been telling people that our defense was going to be better than last year and they’re showing it week after week,” said Sergio Gradilla, Whittier Christian head coach. “If we had a game ball, it’d go to the defense tonight.”
The one model of consistency for the Heralds on Friday night was David Fischer. The senior running back powered through the Cardinals defense for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
When Esslinger missed most of the second quarter, it was Fischer’s nine-yard run up the middle that gave the Heralds a short 7-6 lead.
Fischer sealed the win with a two-yard dive with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. However, the extra point was blocked, which gave Whittier hope on its Homecoming Night.
While Whittier quarterback Jered Reza made it interesting with some nice runs, his pass to Anthony Figueroa as time expired, was well short of the endzone, preserving the Heralds’ victory.
“[David] ran the ball extremely well, really hard,” Gradilla said. “When Whittier knew that Ryan wasn’t going to run anymore, they added another guy in the box and changed to a four-man front and David still got his yards, he was just tough tonight.”
Reza completed nine-of-14 passes for 121 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Wide receiver Matt Acosta caught three passes for 65 yards and a score.
Eddie Orta rumbled for 97 yards on 17 carries to go with his touchdown.
It was a first quarter to forget for Whittier Christian, as Esslinger completed just one of his first eight pass attempts, five of which were dropped by receivers.
Early in the second half. Esslinger suffered the bruised kneecap when he scrambled up the middle to avoid pressure. He sat out until the start of the second half.
“We challenged them and said they [the receivers] needed to make plays, otherwise we were going to lose,” Gradilla said. “Finally, in the second half they stepped up and I’m proud of Ryan too, he stepped up, he could have said he couldn’t go, but it’s his senior year and he’s a captain, so he gave it everything he had.”
However, on that same drive, Whittier Christian was aided by a personal foul call that set up the Heralds at the Whittier nine-yard line.
On the very next play, Fischer raced untouched up the middle for the score.
Whittier Christian looked poised to keep the lead at the break, but Reza rolled out to his left and hit Acosta for a 30-yard score with 10 seconds left in the half to give the Cardinals a 13-6 halftime lead.
After two turnovers to start the second half, including Esslinger’s first interception by the Cardinals’ Luis Valero, Whittier extended the lead to 20-7 when Gerry Pantoja found room on the left side and ran in a score from 28 yards out.
On the ensuing drive, Esslinger brought the Heralds closer by hitting Nick Watase for a 15-yard score.
Whittier Christian took the lead for good with 6:23 remaining in the fourth quarter when Huitt scooped up a fumble and ran it in for a 20-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Reza was intercepted by Cooper Hughes, setting up Fischer’s touchdown. Matt Triviso also intercepted a pass, his second in as many weeks, in the first half.
“We just keep playing and that’s what I tell them,” Gradilla said. “Bad things are going to happen in games and it’s about how we react to that. We reacted well tonight and we just keep playing. I’m really proud of them.”
Orta put the Cardinals on top on Whittier’s first drive with a six-yard run up the middle.
Esslinger finished 12-of-25 for 77 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Dylan Murphy led the defense with 14 tackles. Huitt added nine tackles and Joshua Grant recorded two sacks.
Whittier Christian is 3-0 for the first time since 2010. The Heralds host St. Margaret’s next Friday at Whittier College.