June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Western rolls into semifinal round with decisive home victory over Apple Valley

Western running back Josh Faulkner carries the ball for the Pioneers during the second half. (Photos: Fernando M. Donado, For OC Sports Zone).

Western High School’s football team is on a roll and moving on to the semifinals.  

The Pioneers defense forced five turnovers and wide receiver Julian Amezcua-Foucault made three spectacular TD catches as Western defeated Apple Valley 49-19 in a CIF Division 5 quarterfinal playoff game Friday night at Western,

The Pioneers (11-1) advance to the semifinals and will play Orange Vista on the road next Friday.

“We play for each other on this team,” said Amezcua-Foucault, who had six catches and three grabs for touchdowns. “We focused all week on this game and we kept pushing all night long.”

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

Western’s defensive back Josh Faulkner led the aggressive Pioneers defensive charge. Faulkner returned a fumble in the opening quarter 50 yards for a touchdown and then midway through the fourth quarter, Faulkner returned a deflected pass by teammate Malachi Alatorre 85 yards for a Pioneer touchdown putting a lid on the victory.

“They’re a big physical team and we studied their schemes,” said Faulkner. “Our defensive line played amazing and it’s exciting to be going to the semifinals.”

Western Coach Dan Davidson raved about Faulkner and the Pioneer linemen’s play following the game.

“Josh (Faulkner) is electrifying, he’s dynamic and he’s a special player,” said Davidson. “We can plug him in anywhere. Last year he scored 26 touchdowns as a running back and tonight he jumped an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown. He’s going to play somewhere on Saturday’s next year. Our linemen were outstanding. I told them they’re never going to get headlines, but if they don’t play well, we won’t win.”   

Western held a commanding 28-6 lead at halftime, but the Sun Devils (6-5) mounted a comeback and made it interesting in the third quarter. Apple Valley quarterback Noah Celie tossed a 16-yard TD pass to Kayden Struebing at the 6:52 mark of the quarter to cut the lead to 28-13. The Sun Devils then got the ball back and were driving. 

However, Pioneers’ linebacker Clayton Corbett jumped in front of a screen pass and returned it 50 yards to the Sun Devils 10-yard line turning the tide of the game.

Four plays later, Western quarterback Anthony Luna threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Amezcua-Foucault who leaped high in the air to pull down his third TD of the game, giving the Pioneers a 35-13 lead with 58 seconds remaining in the quarter.

“I read their offensive linemen’s eyes and I watched their running backs on the play and I thought the QB was going to throw it into the dirt, but he didn’t and I was able to pick it off and I was thinking touchdown,” said Corbett, a senior. “Tonight we rallied. It was all hats to the ball.”

Luna added a 32-yard TD run and Faulkner returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to close out Western’s scoring.

Western, the Orange League champion, has averaged 47 points per game and has won 11 consecutive games after dropping the season opener to Los Alamitos. The Pioneers have scored 40 or more points nine times this season.

It was a great start for Western.

Midway through the opening quarter, after Faulkner scooped up an Apple Valley fumble and raced 50 yards for a touchdown, giving the Pioneers a 7-0 lead, the Sun Devils countered. Following a trick play on the ensuing kickoff that was returned to the Western 33 yard-line, Xavier Salazar scored on a 27-yard TD run. However, the Sun Devils missed the PAT and trailed 7-6 with 5:51 left in the first quarter.

The Pioneers responded with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was capped off by running back Malachi Alatorre’s 10-yard touchdown, upping Western’s lead to 14-6 with 1:58 left in the quarter.

Western’s defense stiffened in the second quarter and forced a second turnover. Defensive lineman, Dane Torrence, recovered an Apple Valley fumble to halt an Apple Valley drive.

The Pioneers took advantage of the Sun Devils miscue by driving 60 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. Luna tossed a 11-yard TD pass to Amezcua-Foucault in the right corner of the end zone to increase the Western lead to 21-6. Later in the quarter, the duo connected on a second TD. Amezcua-Foucault made another amazing grab for a 32-yard touchdown and Western took a 28-6 lead at the break.  

Luna’s three TD passes gives him 46 touchdown passes on the season, along  with 3,109 yards. The senior QB holds the Western records for touchdown passes in a career (117) and is second in career passing yards with 8,950 yards, trailing Anthony Munoz by 416 yards.

“This was an amazing win and we stayed focused all week on this game,” said Luna.

Alatorre also had a huge game for Western on both sides of the ball.  He rushed for 57 yards and scored a touchdown and was a major defensive factor throughout the game.    

Apple Valley’s running backs Zyron Belcher and Salazar combined to run for 147 yards and two TDs and Celie completed 16 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown pass to lead the Sun Devils.   

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone