First published in the Sept. 23 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The La Cañada High School varsity football team was off to a strong start to the season with wins in its first three games. Game four welcomed similarly undefeated North Hollywood Campbell Hall to town.
For most of the way, La Cañada looked headed to another victory…until it didn’t.
Despite leading for a majority of the contest, the Spartans were unable to hold off the visiting Vikings at the end and fell 27-23 in a nonleague game last Friday night.
The loss moved LC’s record to 3-1 and snapped its six-game winning streak, which dated back to the end of last season. Meanwhile, Campbell Hall improved its record to 5-0.
“Our kids wanted this one a lot and they played really hard [with] great effort,” La Cañada coach Dave Avramovich said. ”It always comes down to execution at the end, and I thought [the Vikings] executed a little better down the stretch.”
La Cañada had never trailed until late in the game. But with 2:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, Campbell Hall was one yard from the lead. The Vikings handed the ball off on third down and goal to go, but La Cañada’s Corey Cheung made the tackle for a two-yard loss. However, on fourth down Viking quarterback Isaiah Sepand ran the ball up the middle for the go-ahead score.
After the successful PAT kick, La Cañada got the ball back, down by four, with 2:04 left and 77 yards away from salvaging the contest. The Spartans got across midfield but, facing fourth-and-10, Spartan quarterback Macky Plocher was hit on his pass attempt and the comeback bid ended as the ball hit the turf with 1:33 left.
“I think the offense did pretty good in the first half and then the second half we were a little more conservative than we wanted to be,” Avramovich said.
LCHS, which had been on the cusp of its first 4-0 start since 2005, had a game-high 16-point cushion when Shaina Clorfeine kicked a 24-yard field goal with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
“She’s really good from inside 30,” Avramovich said. “We knew we could kick a field goal and give us a 16-point lead. That is usually something we can hang onto.”
After that, the La Cañada offense went cold as the Campbell Hall offense heated up.
The ensuing Viking drive ended in a touchdown with a bit of good fortune. Facing pressure, Sepand threw the ball into tight coverage only to see the pass tipped, then snatched out of the air by nearby Christopher Hammond for a 21-yard touchdown. Now, with 4:07 left in the third, the advantage was down to 23-13.
The next La Cañada drive fizzled out with a punt following an intentional grounding penalty on third down near midfield. The Vikings then drove 88 yards for a touchdown with eight minutes to play. Once again, Hammond caught the scoring pass, but this time it was from 13 yards out and originally intended for him. The following La Cañada drive ended in another punt, setting the table for the Vikings’ go-ahead drive.
“La Cañada came out and did a lot of things we expected, but they did them anyway,” Campbell Hall coach Dennis Keyes said. “They are a good ball club, but our team showed heart, tenacity and grit [to pull out the win].”
In the first half, La Cañada scored a touchdown on each of its three possessions and ended with the Spartans up, 20-7.
The opening possession of the game concluded when La Cañada’s Anthony Veneeri recovered a fumble. The hosts turned it into points with a 10-play, 66-yard drive culminating in an eight-yard touchdown strike from Plocher to Jack Stroben. Cheung then ran the ball in for the two-point conversion to go up 8-0.
The next La Cañada drive, which was keyed by a 26-yard catch by Ian Phillips on play-action, ended with a Cheung one-yard rushing touchdown to the right. The lead grew to 14-0.
After Campbell Hall got on the scoreboard, La Cañada struck again with a four-yard touchdown on a sweep to the left by Cheung with 34 seconds before halftime.
Cheung finished with 21 carries for 102 yards and the two scores. The junior also caught three passes for 61 yards. Brandon Shepherd had four carries for 13 yards. Jamie Warner had one carry for three yards.
Plocher completed 13 of 25 passes for 185 yards and one score. Stroben had three grabs for 35 yards. Caleb Carruthers had 21 yards on three catches. Cole Stratton had 19 yards on two receptions. Phillips had the one grab for 26 yards and Venneri had one for 23 yards.
Venneri led his squad in tackles with 14, Shepherd had 13 and Warner 11. Mateo Gallegos had six, Cheung had five, Phillips, Carruthers, Stratton had four tackles apiece with Stroben and Jake Adkins making three. Cayden Klien and Diego Reyes had one.
“It’s a game we definitely thought we should have won,” Avramovich said. “We didn’t execute at the end, but I’m really proud of the guys.”