(El Camino College, Torrance, CA-Site of ALL L.A. City Section Finals)— [Game Preview]: The Linda Esperanza Marquez Gladiators from Huntington Park, CA, with their unblemished record of (13-0), and with the #1 seed ranking in the CIF/L.A. City Section’s Division III playoff bracket, came into this Final against the Gardena Panthers, owners of a (7-4) record and a #4 seed, on Saturday, 11/30/19, at 11 am. The weather was a brisk and cool 65 degrees at kick-off and the overcast skies offered no immediate threat of rain. The Astro-Turf field was in immaculate shape for the day’s first of the Section’s three Divisional Final games.
(Game Recap): (1st Qtr)—Gardena took the opening kick-off and ran it back to decent field position. But, they were held to a “3 & out” and were forced to punt. On Marquez’s first possession, they too were held to a “3 & out.” On the Panthers second possession, at 7:40 on the clock, they scored on an option play by#11/QB/SR/Daquan Paul, as he rolled left and barely stretched out to the pylon to score. The PAT failed, (6-0), Panthers. The big play of that series was another QB run-option for a 35 yd. gainer down to the Marquez 11 yd. line.
On the ensuing kick-off to Marquez, their next possession began at their own 45 yd line. Five plays later #7/QB/SR/Erick Salas hit his WR for first & goal at the Gardena 8 yd. line. It became fourth & goal after a completion to the 1 yd. line. However, instead of attempting a short field goal, the Gladiators went for the score but were stopped cold on a “Blast” up the middle, by RB/Andrew Molina. After surviving this close call, the Panthers put the ball in play at their own 3 yd. line. They were unable to garner a first down, and with another “3 & out”, they punted from their end zone. It was a very short punt and the Gladiators gladly accepted it at the Panthers 29 yd line. This concluded the 1st period of play with the score, Gardena 6 Marquez 0
(2nd Qtr)—Marquez then earned a first down at the 17 yd. line, marking their second time working from the “Red Zone.” Gladiator RBs, #4 Lawson, Gonzalez were driving forward with positive carries on this series. But, Marquez unexpectedly turned the ball over when QB/Salas fumbled on a blind option right. The Panthers defensive lineman, Avon Giles was credited for forcing Salas to cough it up at the 19 yd.
The Panthers took over at the 19 yd. line. On third & one, Gardena’s long pass was intercepted by #12 Sam Viramontes at 40 yd. line. On the Gladiators fifth possession, Salas hit #25/RB-DB/SR/Joey Vasquez at the 25 yd. line for a first down at the Panthers 49 yd. line. Then, Salas connected again, but this time with #23/WR/SR/Francisco Amescua, for another first down at the 41. Although Salas was finding his range and accuracy with his receivers and maintaining drive momentum, team penalties crippled much of his effort to advance the ball into consistent scoring positions. First, a holding penalty was called, and then after a completion to his WR, he fumbled, and Gardena’s #2/DB/SR/Duran Wallace recovered it at the 26 yd. line.
On a new possession, as the half was winding down, Salas misread his WR’s post route at goal line. It resulted in an INT by #10/DB/SR/Adrian Wallace who ran it back to his 20 yd. line with 3:00 minutes left. After a “3 & out” the Panthers punted and on the run back, were penalized with an illegal block in the back. Marquez started in great field position at their 45 yd. line at the one minute mark, but on this important series, the pass blocking broke down and with just :36 seconds left, they were flagged for illegal grounding. That ended the first half.
HALFTIME SCORE: Gardena 6 Marquez 0
(3rd Qtr)—Marquez received the kick-off and ran it back to the 35 yd. line. Joey Vasquez rushed for a first down. It was a “penalty killing” series due to another holding call. On the next play, and compounded by a Panthers sack by #51/DE/SR/Tyrone McDaniel, this brought up a fourth down and another punt. Gardena then took over on their own 21 yd. line.
On Gardena’s first possession QB/Daquan Paul rushed for 9 yds. followed by a #6 Deajon Little student body right Blast for 20 yds. to the Gladiators 45 yd. line. First & 10, Gardena. Little continued to punish the Marquez DBs with his physicality and bruising style of running with a long 15 yd, burst upfield to the 30 yd. line. A hitch pass to #4/WR/SR/Andre Lawson took it down to the Gladiators 15 yd. line. On a repeat of that play, they moved the ball to the 10 yd. line. A time-out was called by Marquez with 4:51 remaining. The Panthers ground game was solidly in gear at this point with QB/Daquan Paul at the controls. Then Head Coach Jim McElroy suddenly mixed up his play calling with a “Wildcat” series when Deajon Little took multiple snaps and drove it closer to the goal line. Marquez was unable to hold their goal line stand when Little punched it in from the 1 yd. line, making the score (12-0). The Panthers then faked their PAT attempt with the holder, #1/WR/JR/ Eddie Seale, running it in untouched to the far corner of the end zone for a successful 2 point conversion. This moved the score to (14–0), Panthers.
The kick-off to Marquez was brought back to the 29 yd. line. On first down, the Gladiators completed a pass to #1/WR/JR/Devin Vega who was rolled out of bounds at the 40 yd. line. QB/Salas used his trio of WRs for quick “down & outs” picking up short, but valuable yardage. This drive managed to move it down to the 35 yd. line. But a “false start” penalty cost the Gladiators, interrupting their momentum. The quarter ended the period with the score showing, Gardena 14 Marquez 0.
(4th Qtr)— The Gladiators continued this drive and connected on a big play when a completed 35 yd. swing pass took it down to the Panthers 3 yd. line. Marquez then steadied themselves and were rewarded with a #8/RB/SR/Juan Gonzalez powered rushing TD from 3 yds. out at the 11:23 mark left in game. The regular PAT failed, leaving the score at (14-6) in favor of Gardena. The Panthers then started their next possession, after the unsuccessful “on-side” kick, from their 40 yd. line. After a “delay of game” penalty was assessed against the Panthers, the down markers were positioned for a 2nd & 20. They suffered a loss on their next rushing play and then it became fourth down after an incomplete pass. The punting unit was brought it in.
After this change of possession, the Gladiators took over on their own 35 yd. line with 9:27 left. On a fourth & 5, they punted to the Panthers. It was a short punt and gave the Panthers excellent field position at the Marquez 45 yd. line. However, their drive stalled and they were forced to punt. The Gladiators fielded the punt and their runner was stopped at their own 11 yd. line. This critical drive started with a pass play on a “down & out” to WR/#1 Devin Vega. On another huge fourth & 1, the Gladiators failed to convert, surrendering the ball back to the Panthers with just 6:11 left. To start this drive, Gardena was caught for a holding penalty. On second & 20, they tried a QB keeper and picked up 8. Then, on third & 12, the Panthers pulled out the “flea flicker”– Halfback option pass to #4/WR/SR/Andre Lawson who was all alone in the deep secondary, but he dropped the perfectly thrown pass at 10 yd. line. This brought up a fourth down punt to Marquez and they ran it back to their 12 yd. line.
Marquez Head Coach, Rudy Fortiz knew that a desperate late game drive was needed to tie the game and force overtime. It started well, as the Gladiators were positively driving upfield on the Panthers, but on a 2nd & 10 at the Gardena 35 yd. line, Salas threw a deep pass, in traffic, to his WR at the 5 yd. line. To their great dismay, it was intercepted by the Panthers. With that game-ending turnover, it was all but academic to preserve the win. The Panthers then ran down the clock until the final play of the game and yielded a “coach’s-decision” safety, thus ending the game with the final score, (14-8).
Photo Gallery Credits: Javier Perez, Student Intern, Cal State Dominguez Hills, For East L.A. Sports Scene Productions