June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Orange plagued by penalties in quarterfinal round loss to top-seeded Rio Hondo Prep

Orange’s football team, supported by the Panther cheerleaders, gets ready to take the field Friday night. (Photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Orange High School’s football team, which reached the CIF Division 6 championship game last year, was trying to get back into the finals this year.

But top-seeded Rio Hondo Prep overcame an early 7-0 deficit to defeat the Panthers 22-13 Friday night in the CIF Division 9 quarterfinals at Fred Kelly Stadium to dash the Panthers hopes.

Rio Hondo Prep (10-1) moves on to the semifinals to face Vista Del Lago next week.

The Panthers standout running back Ardwon Morris had another big game, rushing for 223 yards and a 13-yard TD in the second quarter. He came out twice in the fourth quarter suffering from a foot injury, but persevered and returned each time to try and help his team rally.

But numerous penalties, many for holding, negated other gains and prevented Morris from picking up more yards and the Panthers (7-5) from scoring more.

“That was a tough one, we committed too many penalties,” said Orange Coach Robert Pedroza. “We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties. We knew we couldn’t do that against a well disciplined, well-coached team like they are. We had a lot of good stops in the first half and the offense didn’t convert and that’s what it came down to.

“We convert on at least half of those at the end of the first half it’s a different ball game, but hats off to them. Their system they play, they’re coached extremely well, maybe they made one or two penalties all game. And we knew that coming in and we didn’t do what we needed to do to win this game. There were a lot of holding penalties, a couple false starts, you can’t win against a really good football team that runs that kind of system and is coached so well.”

It looked like it might be the Panthers night early on. Quarterback Hype Grand connected with Wesley Lundell on a 22-yard TD pass in the first quarter and following the conversion, Orange led 7-0.

But Rio Hondo Prep responded early in the second quarter. Nate Curtis, the team’s leading rusher with 101 yards on 18 carries, scored on an 8-yard TD run and following a two-point conversion, the RHP led 8-7.

On the ensuing drive, Morris bolted 71 yards to get into scoring position to set up his TD run, giving Orange a 13-8 lead.

The Panthers tried to add to their lead late in the second quarter, but penalties, including a costly illegal man downfield, set them back and gave Rio Hondo Prep some hope for a comeback.

In the third quarter, Rio Prep moved ahead 15-13 on a 1-yard TD run by Caden Holcomb. Rio Hondo Prep then took a 22-13 lead on a 38-yard TD by Noah Penunuri.

Needing two scores, Orange tried to get closer late in the game but Joshua Curtis intercepted a pass and returned it to the Panther 1-yard line and decided to down the ball rather than score an insurance TD with a little over a minute left. Rio Hondo Prep then ran out the clock.

Penunuri rushed for 87 yards on 11 carries. Grand, the Orange quarterback, completed five passes for 74 yards.

Pedroza praised the effort of Morris, who is headed to Sacramento State to play football.

“A lot of praise goes to him, he’s been battling through a really bad foot injury the last three or four weeks and he grinded it out again, playing offense and defense for us, hats off to him, he’s a warrior and I can’t wait to see what he does on Saturday next year, he deserves it,” the coach said. “He wanted to finish the game and I’m proud of him for that.”

As for the team’s season:

“The season was up and down,” Pedroza said. “Obviously it was a really young team with only three seniors and I’m excited to see what they can do in the off-season and see what all the new challenges for next season and what comes up.”

Orange lost to San Jacinto 42-15 in last year’s Division 6 title game. The Panthers have won four CIF titles, the last one coming in 2017.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com