Football: Canyons uses strong second half to defeat Falcons

File Photo: Etieni Valele led the defense with nine tackles
File Photo: Etieni Valele led the defense with nine tackles

Leading 10-3 with less than a minute left in the first half, the Cerritos College football team was ready to head into the locker room feeling good about their performance against host College of the Canyons on Saturday night. But the Cougars (3-1) broke off an 87-yard catch and run touchdown with :19 seconds left in the half to tie the game and then scored the final 14 points of the game to defeat the Falcons (3-1), 31-17. The team will travel now travel to Long Beach City College in hopes of winning back the Crosstown Cup, which the Vikings have held since their 34-30 bowl win in 2015.

In the first half, Cerritos limited College of the Canyons to just five rushing yards. But in the final 30 minutes, the Cougars broke off 169 yards on the ground, which set up their three second half touchdowns, which came through the air. The Falcons had difficulty tackling, which allowed the Cougars to extend runs and led to them rushing the ball 28 times.

In taking their 10-3 lead, the Falcons were effective with their third down conversions and they resulted in all 10 of their points. Faced with third-and-11 on their first drive from their own 19-yard line, freshman quarterback TJ McMahon (Servite HS) connected with sophomore Jovohn Tucker (St. John Bosco HS) for 39 yards. A 15-yard McMahon scramble on third-and-14 on the same drive put them at the Cougars 22-yard line. After losing a pair of yards, McMahon connected with sophomore wide receiver C.J. Parks (Mater Dei HS) for a 24-yard touchdown.

The Cerritos defense came up with a huge stop at the end of the first quarter and turned away the Cougars on four straight plays from the one-yard line. The defense won the battle at the line of scrimmage three straight plays, with sophomore cornerback Daron Smith (St. Paul HS/Los Angeles Southwest College) knocking down a pass on fourth down.

Taking over at their own one-yard line, the Falcons drove the ball out of danger and converted four more third down plays, which ended with a 41-yard field goal from freshman Brandon Petruescu (La Mirada HS).

After ending the first half with a touchdown, the Cougars took their first possession of the third quarter and drove 74 plays in just 3:05 to take their first lead of the game. Coming right back on their next possession, Cerritos tied the game at 17-17 when McMahon and Parks connected again for a touchdown, this one from six yards out. The big play of the drive was a catch and run by freshman running back Hinckley Ropati (Downey HS) for 25 yards on third-and-18.

Just like the Falcons did, Canyons came back to score on their next drive to take a lead they would not relinquish. The Cougars went on two long drives after taking the lead to essentially run out the clock. Cerritos had the ball for just two drives after their game-tying touchdown and amassed just 25 total yards in the final 22:21 of the game.

On the night, McMahon completed 14-of-19 passes for 142 yards with Parks pulling in four passes for 45 yards. Ropati led the ground game with 62 yards on 10 carries. Sophomore Jacobi Hardy (Long Beach Wilson HS) had a 68-yard kickoff return and finished with 118 yards on four returns.

The defense saw sophomore linebacker Etieni Valele (Norwalk HS) lead the way with nine stops, with freshman linebacker Anthony Miller (Don Lugo HS) stepping in to post eight stops. Also turning in good games were freshman linebacker Victor Clanton (JSerra HS) with six tackles, while Smith, along with freshmen Omari Okeke (Bellflower HS) and Dimitri Hernandez (John Glenn HS) all registered five tackles.