June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Cypress edges Crean Lutheran with late TD to keep Empire League title hopes alive

Rocco Burdett of Cypress scores the winning TD Saturday night as Carter Jones of Crean Lutheran grabs his leg. (Action photos courtesy Crean Lutheran Shutterbugs, John Luciano; additional photos Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone).

After squandering a 24-point lead, Cypress High School’s football team rallied for a late fourth-quarter touchdown to defeat Crean Lutheran 30-24 in an Empire League game Saturday night at Western.

It marked the sixth consecutive time Cypress (6-3, 4-0) has defeated the Saints. Cypress will play at Tustin next Friday for the league title at Tustin.

After Crean Lutheran’s kicker Connor Stephens tied the game at 24-24 with a 27-yard field goal with 4:35 to play, Centurions quarterback Aidan Houston guided Cypress on an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was culminated by Rocco Burdett 7-yard TD run with 36 seconds remaining.

The PAT was blocked and the Centurions led 30-24. Cypress’ final drive was highlighted by several key runs by Houston and Joshua Brito and two pass receptions by Bobby Castillo. In the final 40 seconds, Houston ran the ball to the Saints 7-yard line, setting the stage for Burdett’s go ahead touchdown run.

“I knew where their middle linebacker Carter Jones was and I just stayed in my lane and kept pushing and following my O-line,” said Burdett, who also scored a touchdown midway through the first quarter that gave Cypress a 17-0 lead. “I think we got complacent, but we fought through adversity tonight and picked it up.”

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

The Saints (6-3, 2-2) were able to run several plays in the final 30 seconds and were near midfield when time ran out.

Houston, who has been battling an injured shoulder, said the team was confident during the final drive.

“We never doubted we were going to win; we were confident and we never quit, “said Houston, who passed for 138 yards and a TD and rushed for 87 yards. “I think we got a little too comfortable, but I said to the guys on the final drive, ‘it’s time.’ This is a big win for us. We needed this win to get ready for the playoffs.”

Centurions Coach Rich Feldman said his team lived up to its reputation.

“We’ve been known to win this type of game against a quality opponent,” said Feldman. “Crean Lutheran probably played their worst first quarter of their season, but they didn’t quit and we had to overcome their momentum. Our O-line did a great job when they had to do a great job and ‘a win is a win is a win.”

Saints Coach Rick Curtis said his team had a chance to win.

“We committed a couple of turnovers and we got way behind but we kept battling,” said Curtis. “We still had a chance to win this game. Now, we have to shake this off and get ready for next week (against Kennedy), so we can earn an automatic playoff bid.”  

Cypress got off to a blazing start as they marched to the Saints 9-yard line on their opening possession, but their drive stalled and they settled for a 26-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead at the 9:25 mark of the opening quarter. 

Moments later, Centurions linebacker Bruno Caldarella intercepted a Saints pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. However, Cypress missed the PAT and led 9-0.

“I wasn’t watching the quarterback’s eyes on the play; I was just covering my zone and then I looked up and couldn’t believe when I saw the ball and I caught it and was able to run it back,” said Caldarella.    

Three plays later, on Crean Lutheran’s ensuing possession, Cypress defensive tackle Matthew Fonseca picked up a fumble and rumbled deep into Saints territory. Three plays later, Burdett blasted into the end zone for a one-yard TD run to up Cypress’ lead to 17-0 . 

On the second play of the second quarter, Houston capped a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard TD pass to wide receiver Michael Hubbard. Hubbard made a spectacular catch over two Saints defenders in the end zone to increase the Centurions lead to 24-0.

“We faced adversity, we stuck together and we proved we can win tight games like this,” said Hubbard.

But Crean Lutheran battled back.

The Saints’ offense began to show life late in the second quarter behind the running of Taurian Nash, Justin Dominguez and Eli Bray. Crean Lutheran put together a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive, aided by two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Bray capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 24-7 at halftime.

The Centurions outgained the Saints 118-96 yards in the first half. The difference was Cypress converting two Saints turnovers into 13 points. 

Crean Lutheran scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to trim the lead to 24-21. Back-up QB Calden Jones came in toss a 55-yard TD pass to Daylin Caamano and Dominguez scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.  Caamano caught five passes for 126 yards and a TD for the Saints.

Twice in the fourth quarter, Saints defensive back Ben Byszewski came up with interceptions in Cypress territory and Crean Lutheran had an excellent opportunity to take the lead. However, the Saints could only produce a field goal to tie the score at 24, setting the stage for a wild finish. 

Crean Lutheran will finish their regular season with a home game against Kennedy. Crean Lutheran needed to defeat Cypress in order to have a chance at sharing the league title. But the Saints can lock up third with a win Friday vs. Kennedy.

Notes    

— Saturday night’s game was the fourth varsity football game played on the grass field at Handel Stadium in three days.

— Cypress football players, along with seniors from the Cheer and Song groups were honored before Saturday’s game.  

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone