La Canada 22 Alhambra Thunderbirds 6
(Jr. Midget Conference Championship Game)
On a very wet, cold, and windy Sunday afternoon at West Covina High School, the undefeated La Canada Jr. Midgets faced the unbeaten Alhambra Thunderbirds in the Conference Championship game. Both teams came into the game following strong victories in the semi-final rounds where La Canada defeated the East LA Bobcats 27-14 and the Thunderbirds outlasted the Covina Vikings in 50-46 thriller.
The Gladiators dominated for most of the game, and came away with a 22-6 victory and the Conference Championship – La Canada’s sixth Conference Championship in the last 10 years. In its 43-year history, this is La Canada’s first Championship in the Jr. Midget division.
Both teams were known for their strong running attacks, and both squads averaged more than 40 points per game. Head Coach and defensive coordinator Jason Sarceda of the Gladiators was concerned about the weather, but his team was well prepared and despite the hostile conditions there were no Gladiator turnovers. Alhambra was equally prepared and well coached and only had one turnover.
Sarceda was also concerned about the potent Alhambra “double wing” attack. His defense, however, controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game. The Thunderbirds, who just the previous week was virtually unstoppable, could must only a single first down in the entire game. Coach Sarceda hesitated when asked about any particular individual standouts, claiming it was a “complete team effort, with all members of the defensive squad contributing to the victory”. Sarceda also said that the entire week before the game was devoted exclusively to defensive preparation. “I knew our offense would score points,” said Sarceda, “and the coaching staff all realized that the key to victory was preparing our defense against Alhambra’s double wing”. According to Sarceda, a “broken defensive assignment” early in the third quarter accounted for the only Alhambra touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the Gladiator offense moved with the same methodical efficiency it had displayed throughout the season seemingly unaffected by the weather. Utilizing a modified single-wing “ground and pound” attack, offensive coordinator Dean Richardson was optimistic about the Gladiator’s chances. “I knew our offense would score points against Alhambra,” he said, although he was also concerned that the weather “would slow down our running attack.” Richardson was also “very surprised”, however, that the Alhambra defense ran its standard defense. “I expected that they would modify their scheme to meet the unique challenge posed by our offense, but they did not, and Alhambra was unable to stop us.” According to Richardson, the only thing that stopped the Gladiator offense was mental mistakes. “We had a few illegal procedure and holding penalties” that at inopportune times “halted good drives,” he said. Richardson was lavish in his praise of his offensive line. “In our offense, the key to success are quick linemen, and our boys really did a terrific job. “David Vardanian and Thomas Riley” both had “outstanding games” on the line, said Richardson. Richardson also pointed to his center, Josh Moulin, whose consistent play has been a mainstay all year. Finally, he noted that Johnnie Padilla’s play at guard was another factor in the game’s outcome.
In the backfield, running backs Mario Martinez and Drake Beasley pounded the Alhambra defense. Beasley finished the game with over 100 yards rushing and two scores, while Martinez had several great runs, including a score of 43 yards. Beasley also added two two-point conversions.
In the first quarter, neither team could initially get their respective offenses on track. Much of this had to do with the weather. After each side exchanged possessions, the Gladiator offense started to move the ball with some urgency. Mario Martinez opened the scoring for the Gladiators with a 43 yard touchdown power run down the La Canada sideline which ignited the spark for the wet, but enthusiastic Gladiator faithful. Drake Beasley added the two point conversion to put the Gladiators up 8-0.
The Gladiators defense dominated the first half, as the Thunderbirds were unable to garner a first down, let alone pose a scoring threat. A tenacious Gladiator defensive unit stopped Alhambra’s high powered “double-wing” offense on all four of its fourth down attempts in the first half. Tommy Riley, Drake Beasley, Tyler Hill, Max Meyer, Johnnie Padilla, and Mario Martinez all played exceptionally well in the first half “reading their keys,” said Coach Sarceda.
In the second quarter, the Gladiator offense extended the lead, when Drake Beasley scored on a 35-yard run. Although the Gladiators missed the conversion, they found themselves with a 14-0 lead at the half.
The Thunderbirds, however, displayed a remarkable resilience, and in the third quarter as the rain fell heavily on the artificial turf, Alhambra came on strong. The Thunderbird defense played hard in the third quarter, stifling the Gladiator offense. On the Gladiator’s first possession of the second half, the Thunderbirds defense forced a La Canada punt, and when the snap escaped the Gladiator punter, the Thunderbirds recovered deep in Gladiator territory. The Alhambra offense, inspired by the play of its defense, then managed to get their initial first down of the game, and on the next play cut the Gladiator lead to 8 points on a brilliant 38-yard run.
Just when it seemed that the Thunderbirds would seize the momentum of the game, the Gladiator offense came alive. With a grinding running game, the Gladiators took the kickoff and pushed the ball down the field, consuming yardage and the rest of the third quarter. In the opening moments of the final period, Beasley broke free on another long run against the tiring Alhambra defense, and then capped the scoring by adding the two point conversion to put the Gladiators ahead for good 22-6.
The Thunderbirds took the kickoff, but were unable to move the ball, and after a punt the Gladiators took over the ball on their 35-yard line with about five minutes left in the game. Methodically, the Gladiators marched downfield. Beasley, Martinez, Brett Gangi, and Alex Guiragossian all carried the ball, and a disheartened Thunderbird defense was unable to stop them. The Alhambra offense never touched the ball again as the Gladiators consumed the rest of the quarter, with Martinez finally taking a knee inside the Thunderbird 20 yard line as time expired.
Many of the boys who played on this championship team will be moving to the local high schools next year, much to the pleasure of the local high school coaches.
Crescenta Valley Varsity Coach Paul Schilling, whose son plays on one of the Gladiator teams, thought that the Jr. Midgets “could have given most of the high school freshmen teams in the area a close game even though they are one to two years younger than the high school teams”. Coach Schilling hopes to “see as many as possible in CV uniforms next year.”
Antonio Harrison, Head Football Coach at Flintridge Prep said that he was amazed “not in the talent level” of the team, but also amazed “in the sense of pride, commitment, and dedication” of the organization. Coach Harrison said that “these characteristics came from top to bottom; from the President, to the coaches disciplined team to parents filling the stands rooting on their young ones. I commend and applaud all that the Gladiators are doing to help foster a sense of community, building young leaders for the future, and giving some young men the opportunity to grow with appropriate guidance.”
From St. Francis High School, Coach Jim Bonds sent his congratulations and noted, “Our senior class this year has been outstanding and many of them played in La Canada Gladiator program including starting linebackers, Joey Dowling and Ryan McAleenan.
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