June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: La Habra goes out a winner over Sonora in final Freeway League game

La Habra wide receiver Bryce Whitley controls a TD pass that was tipped by Sonora defender Luke Crowder. (Photos courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone).

James Gomez has been on the La Habra City Council for 22 years and one of his annual duties has been to present the Battle of the Blue City Championship to the winner of the clash between the city’s two high schools, La Habra and Sonora.

Gomez has never had the opportunity to hand the trophy to Sonora players and he probably never will.

Friday night’s game, won, as usual, by La Habra, 48-21, was the final duel in the storied history of the Freeway League and possibly the last game, for the foreseeable future, in the Battle of the Blue rivalry.

Orange County, with a goal of competitive equity, plans to restructure all of its leagues except for the Trinity League into one football conference, grouping like ability teams based on rankings as CIF does now in the playoffs.

It’s possible that none of the Freeway League teams will be in the same league next fall, which is a significant price to pay.

The Freeway League is a tightly knit league with its six schools – La Habra, Sonora, Troy, Fullerton, Sunny Hills and Buena Park – within eight miles of each other. While the competitiveness has varied among five of the six schools, the geographical dynamic has led to a number of wonderful rivalries over the years.

That includes the Battle of the Blue even though La Habra has won the last 22 meeting by a combined score of 845-229.

A sign in the stadium declared “2 schools One Community,” which accurately reflected the evening. An overflow crowd was at the stadium the schools share on the La Habra campus and the evening was somewhat street fair in nature.

It was an exciting opportunity for Sonora which could win the Freeway League title outright and secure its first win over the Highlanders since Frank Sanchez scooped up a muffed center snap and ran for a 2-point conversion in an 8-7 victory in Frank Mazotta’s fourth season as La Habra coach.

But, like most dreams of dethroning the king, it was not to be.

“That’s the fastest and most physical football team we have played all year,” Sonora Coach Kevin Oberlander said after the game.

La Habra opened an early 14-0 lead before Sonora narrowed the advantage to seven on a slick hook-and-ladder play, quarterback Landon Martin to Olin Morales Hyder, who lateralled to Nicholas Fernandez on a 32-yard TD play.

The Highlanders extended the advantage to 20-7 in the second quarter before a 1-yard run by Sonora’s Anthony Abad pulled the Raiders within six.

La Habra scored twice in the final six minutes of the half to build a 34-14 lead and Sonora was unable to challenge.

Quarterback Kenneth Saucedo threw touchdown passes to Dom Gomez and Bryce Whitley and Gomez and Brandon Giron combined for five TDs in the victory.

Giron’s first score was a spectacular 30-yard run on 4th and 6 and one of Gomez’s TDs was on a 79-yard run.

La Habra finished the regular season 6-4, 4-1 in league and earned a piece of its 16th Freeway League title in the last 17 years. Sonora is 8-2, 4-1, its best season in years and a tribute to the rebuilding that Oberlander has directed in his three seasons as head coach.

La Habra and Sonora shared the final Freeway League title with Troy, which also finished 4-1 with a win over Sunny Hills. The Warriors defeated La Habra earlier in the season, securing a 27-21 victory when Saucedo was tackled a yard short of the end zone with seconds to play.

Mazzotta and Oberlander was happy to share the crown.

“We are Freeway champions and that feels really good,” Oberlander said. “A championship is really awesome for our community.”

So, is the Battle of the Blue over?

“I think it is,” Mazzotta said.

For the time being, probably.

“More than likely,” Oberlander said when asked. “The reality of the situation is we haven’t beaten them in more than two decades. What I want is for our football program is competitive equity, and right now we don’t have that. As soon as I feel we are going to be consistently close to them, we will play them. I’m a big fan of rivalries.”  

Both teams are headed to the CIF playoffs next week.

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—Courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone