June 25, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Ardwon Morris helps Orange earn a share of league title with win over Santa Ana

Orange Head Coach Robert Pedroza celebrates with his players after the Panthers defeated Santa Ana.(Photos: Fernando M. Donado, For OC Sports Zone).

Orange, Santa Ana and St. Margaret’s are tri-champions.

For the sixth consecutive season the Santa Ana and Orange High’s football teams faced off in the Orange Coast League regular season finale. The rivalry has emerged as one of the best in Orange County and on Friday night at Fred Kelly Stadium another league title was on the line.

Panthers running back Ardwon Morris was the star of the game as the senior carried the ball 50 times for 366 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead Orange to a 14-0 shutout win over the Saints.

Sophomore Wesley Lundell replaced injured starting quarterback Hype Grand and handed the ball off to Morris and he did the rest. Throughout the game it took four and five Santa Ana defenders to bring Morris down. Morris leads the county in rushing with 2,152 yards and he has scored 26 touchdowns.

“I attribute to being able to carry the ball (a career-high) 50 times to the time I spend in the weight room,” said Morris, who is committed to playing at Sacramento State next season. “The O-line came up big and I love those guys. They were the key to this game. This isn’t the way we wanted to be league champions (by sharing it), but we made the best of our situation.”

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

The Panthers (6-4, 5-1) will share the league title with Santa Ana (7-3, 5-1) and St. Margaret’s (6-4, 5-1), who defeated Calvary Chapel 55-14 on Friday. According to Saints coach Rory Schoonmaker all three teams will enter the playoffs as a No. 1 seed. Orange also snapped Santa Ana’s five-game winning streak and has extended its winning streak to four games.

Santa Ana had already clinched a share of the title.

“Ardwon (Morris) is an amazing football player,” said Orange Coach Robert Pedroza, who coached his 100th game as the Panthers’ head coach. “He’s put us on his back all year. The O-line got after it tonight, hit them in the mouth and Ardwon kept grinding it out. He doesn’t get tired and he also plays defense. He’s simply amazing.”

Orange offensive lineman Devan Preciado said Morris was incredible.

“Props to Morris, he never gives up” said Preciado. “We wanted to win this game, especially for the seniors. We played like it was our last game.”  

Both teams’ offenses sputtered in the first quarter. Orange, behind the guidance of Lundell, were flagged several times and the Panthers also committed a turnover. The Saints offense failed to get in sync in the opening quarter and the game was scoreless after 12 minutes of play.  

Morris carried the ball nine times as the Panthers put together a 10-play, 87-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter to take the lead. Morris capped the drive with a one-yard TD run, his 25th touchdown of the season. Orange went for a two-point conversion, but Morris was stopped short of the goal line and the Panthers led 6-0. 

The Saints countered with their best drive of the first half as they moved to the Panthers 24 yard line. However, running back Charles Hughes was stopped short of a first down on a fourth down running play with 2:27 left in the half and Orange took over possession on downs.

The Panthers ground attack dominated in the opening half. Morris rushed for 195 yards on 24 carries and a TD. The Panthers completed only one pass in the first half, but held a 35-16 plays from scrimmage over Santa Ana. Orange outgained the Saints 224-71 yards in the first half. Santa Ana only had three possessions in the first half and three in the second half.

“We did everything we shouldn’t have done tonight; we didn’t tackle, we didn’t get off the field and we couldn’t stop Morris and that’s on me,” said Schoonmaker. “They earned this victory. We have to self-evaluate and come back from this game.” 

The Saints took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove to the Panthers 22-yard line but a pass play fell short on a fourth down play.

Orange took possession and held the ball the remainder of the quarter, taking over eight minutes off the clock during their 17-play drive which Santa Ana took possession after stopping the Panthers on a fourth-down run.    

Moments later, following a Saints punt, Morris broke a 49-yard touchdown run and added the two-point conversion as the Panthers increased their lead to 14-0.

The Orange defense was also outstanding, limiting Santa Ana’s rushing game to under 60 yards and their passing attack to under 100 yards while cooling off an offense that had scored more than 40 points in each of their last seven games.

“It was time to get down to business and we did it and kept playing hard,” said Panthers cornerback Chase Jackson.  

Quarterback Sergio Torres led the Saints with 93 yards passing and he also rushed for 33 yards.

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone