June 25, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Sunny Hills rallies for wild Freeway League victory over Fullerton

Elias Vorathavorn of Sunny Hills is chased by Fullerton’s Joel Clemente on his way to a TD Friday night. (Photos courtesy CRiveraPhotography).

With the CIF football playoffs looming on the horizon, each remaining game takes on added importance for Sunny Hills and Fullerton as both teams strive to finish strong and qualify for postseason play.

On Friday night, the Lancers (4-3, 1-1) erased a 21-point deficit and took a huge stride forward defeating Fullerton 28-27 in a wild Freeway League showdown at Fullerton.

“We told our kids when we were down by 21 points, not to panic and stay calm; we’ll chip away,” said Sunny Hills Coach David Wilde. “We went back to our bread and butter using our ‘double-tight, jumbo set’ formation and I think that was the difference.”

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

Down 21-0, Lancers running back Johnny Ramirez capped a long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 21-7 with 2:34 left in the half.

“I think our touchdown right before half, gave us momentum for the second-half,” Wilde added.

Sunny Hills scored on its first possession of the second half to trim the lead to 21-14. Lancers running back Kaito Inoue scored on a 3-yard run and one could sense that Sunny Hills was mounting a comeback and turning the tide of the game.  

The Lancers were without services of their starting quarterback, Madden Leasau, who suffered a concussion in Sunny Hills’ loss last week to Sonora.

Reserve sophomore quarterback CJ Ozuna stepped in and coolly directed two fourth-quarter drives that resulted in touchdowns to give the Lancers a 28-21 lead. Grant Rabe scored on a 38-yard TD run on the first-play of the fourth quarter to tie the score at 21-21 and Elias Vorathavorn added a 52-yard touchdown run with 5:17 to play to give the Lancers a 28-21 lead.

“I saw the hole open and I just kept running and then I knew nobody was going to catch me,” said Rabe, who carried the ball 12 times for 165 yards, including a 54-yard run in the final minute to secure the win for the Lancers. “This is the best feeling in the whole world.”

Vorathavorn was nearly speechless.

“I’m so excited; I’ve never had anything like this ever happen to me,” said Vorathavorn, who finished with 116 yards rushing. “Our O-line played a great game and this is amazing win for us.”

Between Sunny Hills’ fourth quarter touchdowns, Lancers cornerback Ryan Boyd intercepted a Fullerton pass in the end zone to foil an Indians potential go ahead touchdown.

“I saw their receiver in the end zone and I kind of slid underneath in front of him and was able to make the interception,” said Boyd, who was only playing in his second game after returning from a fractured foot injury.

The Sunny Hills offense line (Daniel Jimenez, Mateo Munoz, Carlos Fuentes, Andrew Hodge, Caleb Chikosi, and Connor Irons) dominated in the second half. The Lancers rushed for 423 yards in the game and did not complete a pass (in two attempts). Sunny Hills’ defense was also outstanding in the second half as they held the Indians to one touchdown.

Trailing 28-21 with 5:17 left, Fullerton (2-5, 0-2) committed a turnover, but got the ball back with just over two minutes to play. Reger scrambled out of the pocket and connected on a 58-yard TD pass to Zach Fany to cut the score to 28-27 with 2:04 remaining.

The Indians chose to go for a two-point conversion but Deshawn Cobbs was stopped short of the goal line and Sunny Hills held a slim one-point lead. On their ensuing possession, Rabe ripped off a long run to the Fullerton one-yard line and then the Lancers were able to run the clock out and secure the win.

Fullerton took its opening possession and marched 61-yards in five plays for a touchdown, capped off by a one-yard TD run by Cobbs. The key play on the drive was a 42-yard pass play from Reger to wide receiver Nico Mendez, who made a spectacular grab with a defender hanging on.

In the second quarter, the Indians jumped out to a three-touchdown lead as Fullerton scored two TDs in a span of 14 seconds. Reger tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Fany to finish off a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive.

The Fullerton drive was aided by a 57-yard deflected pass-play reception from Reger to Malachi Meni. On the Lancers first-play following the Indians touchdown, Indians linebacker Eddie Avitia picked off a Sunny Hills’ pass and raced 32 yards for a touchdown, giving Fullerton a 21-0 lead at the 8:22 mark of the second quarter.

Fullerton Coach Richard Salazar said the two-point conversion was the best option.

“We had a few guys playing out of position tonight and last week we missed an extra point and lost by one point, so I decided we were going for the win,” said Salazar.

“I told our kids after the game, there are no words for this loss, this one will hurt for a while, but we have three games remaining and we know we have to win out, to go to the playoffs. We feel we match up well with our future opponents and we’ll start to get ready for them on Saturday.”

Reger completed 15 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns for Fullerton. Fany also had an outstanding game as he caught seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

NOTES

—-Fullerton celebrated Senior Night prior to Friday’s game. Twenty-one senior football players, along with members of the Band, Cheer, Song and Dance, Color Guard and JROTC were honored, along with their families, for their service over the past four years.

“Our seniors work ethic, competitiveness has rubbed off on our program from top to bottom,” said Indians Coach Richard Salazar. “They’re a talented group and they have helped improve our program.”

—- Fullerton junior middle linebacker Niall Dunagan will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in the Indians game against Santa Fe.     

—- Sunny Hills has been plagued with injuries over the past weeks, 11 starters were forced to miss the Lancers game against San Dimas. “We have a lot of young guys who don’t have a lot of varsity experience; they need to take snaps,” said Coach Wilde.

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone