Cooper Hughes | La Habra Journal

Posted on 12 October 2013 by La Habra Journal


Running back David Fischer is sandwiched by Valley Christian’s Aaron Kirchner and Ryan Amato in the third quarter of the Heralds’ 35-27 loss, Friday night.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Penalties, dropped passes and a second-half letdown doomed the Whittier Christian football team in a 35-27 loss to Valley Christian, Friday night at Whittier College in the Olympic League opener for both teams.

The Heralds were hurt almost as much by themselves as they were the Crusaders in the second half, as Whittier Christian struggled to stop Valley Christian on third downs.

A handful of offside penalties didn’t help much either.

“We just didn’t make plays,” said Sergio Gradilla, Whittier Christian head coach. “Defensively, we didn’t get the stops we needed to and offensively, we dropped so many balls. Give credit to them, they played hard, didn’t quit and we let them in the ball game all night.”

While the defense had its issues on one side, the offense was slowed by 17 dropped passes by receivers, most of which came in the second half, during some crucial situations.

Quarterback Ryan Esslinger finished 19-for-42 for 232 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions, both of which led to Crusaders’ touchdowns.

A third turnover, a fumble by receiver Alec Barrios, stalled a potential scoring drive into Valley Christian territory in the second quarter.

But the Heralds overcame the two first-half turnovers to maintain a 14-7 halftime lead.

The second half was a different story.


Valley Christian’s Aaron Kirchner makes a diving catch as the Heralds’ Matt Triviso closes in during Whittier Christian’s 35-27 loss, Friday night at Whittier College.

Valley Christian (2-4, 1-0) tied up the game on its first possession of the third quarter when quarterback Jack Struiksma hit Brian Cok for a 22-yard touchdown.

The duo gave the Crusaders the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter when they combined for a 29-yard touchdown.

Struiksma finished 15-of-25 for 208 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Running back Jonathan Nicholson ran for 188 yards on 29 carries. His lone touchdown run all but iced the game for Valley Christian late in the fourth quarter.

The junior running back rushed for 120 yards in the second half alone.

“They started beating us on the outside,” Gradilla said. “Tonight was a night where we missed Dylan Murphy, it’s a huge loss. Not to take away from our other safeties, but they didn’t fill hard and having Dylan in there makes a big difference.”

Whittier Christian (3-3, 0-1) looked poised for a big offensive night when Esslinger connected with Barrios for a four-yard touchdown less than three minutes into the game.

However, the Heralds lost the ball on their next two possessions. Esslinger was intercepted on a fourth-and-2 play by Aaron Kirchner, who tipped the pass to himself. The turnover led to a one-yard touchdown by Struiksma.

The Heralds’ next possession was stopped in Valley Christian territory when Barrios fumbled, but the Crusaders were unable to turn the takeaway into points.

Whittier Christian reclaimed the lead with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Esslinger to Evans.


Receiver Noah Evans and quarterback Ryan Esslinger celebrate after they connect for a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter against Valley Christian, Friday night.

With the Crusaders threatening to tie before the half, Cooper Hughes intercepted a pass that was tipped at the line, preserving a halftime lead for the Heralds.

Valley Christian came out fast in the second half.

Five minute after Cok’s touchdown reception to tie, Valley Christian took its first lead. On fourth down, the Crusaders lined up for a  field goal, but holder William Brines took the snap, rolled out right and found Nathan Aaronsen in the back of the endzone for a two-yard touchdown.

The Heralds tied it up late in the third quarter on a nine-yard run by David Fischer, who didn’t start the game, but finished with nine carries for 63 yards, most of that coming in the second half.

Then came the heavy blows. Midway through the fourth quarter, Struiksma lofted a pass that hit Cok in stride for a 29-yard touchdown.

During that scoring drive, Nick Watase deflected a pass straight up, which looked taylor-made for a Matt Triviso interception, but the senior failed to come down with the ball.

On the ensuing Heralds’ possession, Esslinger’s pass was batted by defensive end Kent Running and intercepted by a diving Roger Ramos. The Crusaders turned it into a touchdown with a three-yard run by Nicholson with 5:27 remaining.

After seeing his receivers drop multiple passes in the second half, Esslinger connected with Barrios for a 19-yard score, but the following onside kick was recovered by Aaron Kirchner and Valley Christian ran out the clock.

“Dropping balls demoralizes a team, when you have a good play and someone drops the ball, it just demoralizes the whole team,” Gradilla said. “It carried over on the defense, we just didn’t play well overall tonight.”

The Heralds have now dropped three consecutive games and will try to right themselves in a road game against Village Christian at Occidental College, Thursday at 7 p.m.

“We’re a much better team than we showed tonight,” Gradilla said. “We just have to go back to the drawing board and figure some things out. Each game from here on out is a must win for us if we want to win league.”


Whittier Christian’s Dylan Murphy (right) meets with Valley Christian’s captains for the coin flip. Murphy is out for the year due to emergency surgery to remove blood clots, but he remains a captain and sideline supporter for the Heralds.


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