Falcons’ Lee steals the show in season opener after three players are kicked out early
By Maddy PUMILIA
The Crescenta Valley varsity football season-opening game against the Santa Paula Cardinals looked like it would be a blowout, but the final score showed a more competitive contest.
By halftime, the score was 24-3 with the Falcons taking the lead. The game appeared to be locked up for the Falcons, but big plays by Santa Paula in the second half made it a close CV win, 40-32.
The game was plagued with penalties by both teams. The penalties wiped out big plays, which had an effect on the final score. Falcons’ wide receiver Nick Ruiz and offensive lineman Armon Pashai were ejected from the game after tempers flared from both sides in the first quarter. After a Cardinals fumble deep inside CV territory, pushing and shoving ensued. And after the referees sorted things out, Santa Paula’s Hayden McClain was also ejected.
In the opening drive of the game for CV, running backs William Wang and Marro Lee dominated. Wang had a 36-yard run, and Lee scored the touchdown with only 1:06 off the clock. A 73-yard touchdown pass from Zac Wilkerson to Ruiz on the Falcons’ next drive made it 14-0.
With about five minutes left in the first quarter, Wilkerson ran for a touchdown, making the score 21-0. Another field goal made the score 24-0. A field goal by Santa Paula and a fumble by Wilkerson ended the half.
Lee finished the game with 131 rushing yards on 20 carries. He scored twice. Wilkerson was also sharp, passing for 197 yards, and had 56 yards rushing as well.
“I feel like the greatest thing was not turning over the ball,” said Lee. “Last year, I had a fumble problem.”
At the start of the third quarter, Santa Paula’s Steven Kohr scored on the opening drive to taking it to 24-10. Later on though, CV linebacker Paul Gamez intercepted quarterback Kameron Klien’s pass, and then Lee ran for his second touchdown, making it 30-10 after the extra point was no good. On the next CV drive, Lee sparkled again and hurdled over a defender, setting up a field goal by Pavle Atanackovic.
Daniel Kohr returned the ball on the kickoff for a touchdown, turning the corner and sprinting past the CV defenders, narrowing the score to 33-17. Santa Paula later followed with an additional touchdown and a two-point conversion, making the score 33-25. If Santa Paula scored another touchdown with a two-point conversion, the game would be tied.
But in what was the most important play of the game, Wilkerson hit Lee on third down and long for 37 yards, keeping the drive alive, and Wilkerson’s touchdown minutes later sealed the fate of the Cardinals. The game ended with Santa Paula scoring an additional touchdown, leaving the final score at 40-32.
“We need to do better on our defense. That will be our point of emphasis,” said CV Head Coach Paul Schilling. “We also need to work on special teams. Marro did a great job. The offensive line did a great job.”
Last year Lee was injured and had to sit out some of the season. The team lost every game without Lee while he was hurt.
“I missed how fun football was. I felt helpless the last five games of the season,” Lee said.
On Friday, the Falcons play at St. Francis. The game is at 7:30 p.m. at 200 Foothill Blvd. in La Cañada. After that, the Falcons go against La Cañada High School on Sept. 23. On Sept. 30, the Falcons play against their first Pacific League rival Hoover High School.
Senior running back Marro Lee broke his thumb and missed the last five games of 2010. Last Friday, he was breaking defenders’ ankles instead. The first play from scrimmage yielded a huge gain for CV on a screen pass for Lee, and he was the one to score the first touchdown of the season. His highlight play came in the third quarter when he leapt over a defender on a 20-yard run. If there was any criticism of his play – and this is nitpicking – it would be two passes he dropped from Wilkerson.
Quarterback Zac Wilkerson also displayed his running prowess against the Cardinals. On his best play, in the second quarter Wilkerson faked a pass to the right, which threw off defenders, and he busted up the middle of the field for an 18-yard gain. At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Wilkerson showed he is more than just a passer. Combined with running backs Lee and William Wang, the Falcons have a triple threat of runners for opposing defenses to slow down.
Coach Paul Schilling may have said in his postgame comments that his defense did not play well enough, and indeed, allowing 32 points isn’t a great sign. But the last touchdown scored by the Cardinals was merely window dressing as the game was already out of reach, and the defensive line did pick up their play as the game went on. Cardinal quarterback Kameron Klien easily connected with his receivers on screen passes early on, but the Falcons line dominated the trenches later, sacking Klien several times and pressuring him at others.
Not So Golden Against the Knights
CV’s opponent on Friday, St. Francis, has dominated the Falcons for years. Since 2004, the average margin of victory for the Golden Knights is just over 21 points per game against the Falcons. What will not help CV is if it takes the same attitude into the game as it had last week. Not including the ejections of Nick Ruiz and Armon Pashai, the Falcons had two other misconduct penalties against them.
It won’t just take healthy doses of Marro Lee, but also composure if the Falcons are to end their drought against St. Francis.