May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Defense powers Sunny Hills into Division 8 semifinals Friday vs. Trabuco Hills

11/15/19: Sunny Hills' Brandon Roberts celebrates with teammate Dylan Lawson after scoring the first (7-yard run) of his two first-quarter touchdowns in CIF Division 8 quarterfinal victory over Notre Dame Riverside. (Photo courtesy Jim McCormack for OC Sports Zone)

Sunny Hills’ Brandon Roberts celebrates with teammate Dylan Lawson after scoring the first of his two first-quarter touchdowns. (Photos courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone)

Notre Dame Riverside’s defensive scheme for its CIF Division 8 football playoff football clash Friday night was exactly what it should have been … take away the Lancers’ run game.

And it didn’t work.

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

While the Titans’ did manage to keep the Lancers’ leading rusher, Jun Ahn, from any explosive long plays, when the game was over, Ahn had rushed for 140 yards (his per game average is 138.5) and scored his usual three touchdowns (1, 3 and 3-yard runs) and the rest of Sunny Hills’ experienced skill players flourished as the top-seeded Lancers broke away in the second half for a decisive 49-24 victory.

The victory earned the Lancers (10-2) a semifinal match Friday at Trabuco Hills, a team they beat earlier this year, 41-34, in overtime. That game had drama from start to finish and the rematch promises much of the same.

Besides Ahn’s three scores, the Lancers got two touchdowns from Brandon Roberts (8-yard run, 65-yard pass from Luke Duxbury), two TD passes and an excellent command of the offense from Duxbury and a TD reception and a couple of long receptions from Wilson Cal, their leading receiver.

Duxbury finished the evening with 9 completions in 10 attempts for 229 yards and also scrambled for an additional 35. Roberts touched the ball seven times (six rushes, 40 yards, one reception, 65 yards) and scored twice and Cal, the Lancers’ leading receiver caught eight of Duxbury’s throws for 164 yards and a TD.

But let’s spend a few minutes talking about the defense. Sunny Hills scored the first four times it had the ball in the first half, but Notre Dame responded with two TDs and a field goal. When the Titans drove the length of the field to move within 28-17 with 30 seconds to play in the half and would receive the second-half kickoff, no reasonable observer felt Sunny Hills had the game in hand.

The defense slowly, and spectacularly, took away those worries. On Notre Dame’s first drive, a swarming Lancer defense stopped Titan running back Joseph Green a yard short of a first down at mid-field. Notre Dame sent the punt team onto the field, which did a couple of maneuvers to draw Lancer defenders offside.

Neither worked and the Titans called time out and sent the offense back onto the field.  An illegal procedure penalty on fourth down, when half the Titan line moved before the ball was snapped, ultimately led to a punt.

At this point, the Lancer offense did what any good offense should do for its defense, going on a take your time but score drive. As usual, Ahn did the heavy lifting, with Duxbury hitting Cal for a big gain and the march also benefited from a facemask penalty on the Titans, Ahn scoring from the 2 at 3:36.

Notre Dame’s next drive met the same fate and the Lancer offense responded as it had the first time, methodically driving down the field to Ahn’s third TD of the game, from the 3 at 5:19 of the fourth.

“We made some adjustments at halftime,” said linebacker Carson Irons, the Mike Ditka of the Lancer defense who finished the contest with 17 tackles, running his two-season total to more than 240 defensive stops.

Carson had a specific assignment, to shadow Notre Dame’s talented multi-purpose freshman quarterback Dre Robles, who had kept drives alive with his running as much as his passing in the first half. Irons and his teammates were much better at minimalizing the Robles’ effect in the second half. And the Lancers completely shut down the Titan running game. 

Defensive back Jonathan Lee wrapped up the Lancer scoring returning an interception 45 yards for a score with 4:15 remaining.

The game had an unsettling beginning for the Lancers when they muffed the kickoff and Notre Dame recovered. The Lancer defense responded, however, limiting the damage to a 22-yard field goal at 10:14.

The Titans’ only lead of the night lasted exactly 50 seconds. After running one play, Duxbury faked to Ahn and hit Cal on a play-action pass across the middle for 67 yards and Roberts scored one play later on a sweep from the eight.

Less than three minutes later Lancer David Enriquez blunted a Notre Dame drive with a fumble recovery and Duxbury immediately hit the streaking Roberts with a 65-yard scoring bomb to push the advantage to 14-3 and Duxbury’s 13-yard pass to Cal hiked the lead to 21-3 before the end of the first quarter. 

RELATED: Looking back, ahead at CIF football playoffs

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Courtesy Jim McCormack for OC Sports Zone