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WEEK 9 FOOTBALL Artesia stays alive for possible postseason bid in high-scoring affair with Cerritos

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

The only thing missing from Artesia High’s homecoming football game against Cerritos High last Friday night was the scoreboard at Atkins Stadium missing a bulb or two. Who could blame the school if that had happened after the performance that the Pioneers showcased.

Artesia lit up the scoreboard for a school-record 87 points and in the process, kept its postseason dreams alive in an 87-32 rout over the Dons. The game featured a little bit of everything-back to back kickoff returns for touchdowns following a 17-yard score from Artesia senior running back Xavier Yoakum, all in a span of 33.6 seconds late in the first half. A pair of 20-yard punt returns for touchdowns by Artesia senior lineman Isaiah Cardenas, a 30-yard pick six by Artesia junior linebacker Leroy Gladden early in the fourth quarter and 517 yards on the ground by the Pioneers, just to name a few. Artesia would score on all nine offensive possessions it had.

When the Madden-like game had concluded, Artesia first-year head coach Don Olmstead called it a rarity, one that he had never been a part of in person.

“No, but then also you don’t expect to score 35 points on special teams,” Olmstead said. “So, that’s what I told [Cerritos head coach] Barry [Thomas after the game]. I told him, ‘I’m sorry Barry’. It’s kind of one of those things where we’re trying to put guys in and that’s just how it works out. But I knew we had to score points. I knew they would score because they’re good offensively. They can play.”

“Don’s a good guy; I know that,” Thomas said. “They couldn’t stop scoring. They just couldn’t. What are you going to do? Tell the kids to go halfway. I knew that going in. They did what they could.”

It’s the first time the Pioneers had scored more than 60 points in a game since defeating the Dons 61-13 on Oct. 10, 2008. It’s the widest margin of victory for the Pioneers since blasting John Glenn High 51-0 on Nov. 4, 2005 and conversely, the largest margin of defeat by the Dons since being blanked by La Mirada High 76-0 almost two years ago. Artesia, which has won seven straight against the Dons, now moves to 13-7 against its ABC Unified School District rivals in the past 20 seasons. This was, by the way, the final meeting for both as Suburban League members.

Artesia wasted little time getting the onslaught started as junior quarterback Heder Gladden scored on a 39-yard run just two plays into the contest. The hosts had a chance to increase the margin, but an 85-yard punt return by junior running back Travys Davis was called back because of offsetting personal foul infractions. But Gladden still made it 14-0 with an eight-yard score almost midway through the stanza.

The first of Cardenas’ punt returns came 90 second later before the Dons (1-8 overall, 0-5 in league) got on the board. Playing with a short field, sophomore wide receiver Jayden Alderete hauled in a 29-yard pass from senior quarterback Colby Nielsen. The Pioneers extended their lead by 10 points after a 38-yard field goal from senior Sergio Ramos and the second Cardenas punt return, all within the first 2:37 of the second quarter.

The see-saw affair went back to Cerritos when Nielsen connected with sophomore wide receiver Stacy King, making it 31-12. But Yoakum scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 28-yard run with 3:26 left in the half. Two plays later, Nielsen launched a 40-yard scoring play to senior wide receiver Christian King and just like that, Cerritos was down by 20 points at 38-18.

By halftime, a 52-26 Artesia advantage, the Pioneers (4-5, 2-3) had 320 yards on the ground and had the ball for 11:06. Cerritos, on the other hand, couldn’t generate much on the ground with seven carries. But Nielsen was 14 of 23 for 167 yards and three scores. It would be completely different over the next 24 minutes.

“Offensively, yeah, I like some of the things that we did,” Thomas said. “The drops are still there; we left some points on the board, I think. But it didn’t matter; we didn’t stop them at all. They just had too much for us. Everybody runs the ball on us.”

“We’ve got some guys who can play,” Olmstead said. “We’ve got some guys with ability and it’s just spreading the ball out and not being predictable. We put a couple of wrinkles in every week and the guys respond to it pretty well and run it well. And our O-Line; I have to give our O-line credit. Without those five guys up front…the skilled guys aren’t who they are without anybody in front of them.”

Cerritos began the second half on an 11-play drive that took three and a half minutes. But Nielsen was picked off by Yoakum at the Artesia 23-yard line and the Pioneers turned that into a Yoakum one-yard run over two minutes later. Nielsen was then sacked on fourth and 11 from the Artesia 44-yard line and three plays later, senior backup quarterback Stanley Monis made it 66-26 with a 30-yard touchdown run.

Nielsen would cut into Artesia’s big lead when he threw a 23-yard pass to Stacy King with 23.9 seconds left in the third quarter. But two plays into the final quarter, Davis scored from 15 yards out, followed by Leroy Gladden’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown 59 seconds later.

The scoring ended when Artesia senior safety Greg Soto intercepted Nielsen at the Artesia 48-yard line and returned it 27 yards. Two plays later, sophomore Anthony Soto went in from 28 yards.

“That’s the risk that always happens when you have good athletes,” Olmstead said of the high scoring tilt. “Anyone of them at any moment can take the ball and be gone. We have the luxury of having some guys on our team, but they have some too.”

“It’s just tough,” Thomas said of his team’s rush defense. “The kids are playing their best with what they’ve got. We lost a lot of size with Josh Cruz and [Matt] Fernandez from last year. So, that was tough. I wasn’t expecting for the backup corps to be this shaky. But, we have to work with what we have.”

Yoakum led everyone with 165 yards on 13 carries while Heder Gladden added 158 yards on 13 carries and Davis another 105 yards on seven touches. On defense, the Pioneers were led by Yoakum (eight tackles) and Leroy Gladden (two sacks).

“Their offense is very similar to ours and their quarterback can throw a little bit,” Olmstead said. “That was the biggest concern, just getting into an air attack with them where we ground and pound and try to score on the ground and throw a little bit here and there. But they can score equally as fast through the air. So, it was kind of managing that and making sure it didn’t get into too big of a shootout.”

The Pioneers will travel to Norwalk High tonight with third place and an automatic postseason bid possibly on the line. Situated in California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section’s Division 12, there are 45 teams and it’s more than likely there won’t be any at-large spots open, according to Olmstead. Artesia would need to win and hope that the CIF-SS committee sees that the team played a favorable non-league schedule plus the strength of the league. A win by Norwalk would kill any playoff chances.

“We just have to be physical up front,” Olmstead said of Norwalk. “Year in and year out, the teams that we have trouble with are the teams who are physical up front; the La Mirada’s, the Mayfair’s, the Norwalk’s. We don’t have to be more physical. We just have to be equal to them. If we can match their physicality up front, I think we have a chance.”

Nielsen ended the game 27 of 50 for 313 yards and four touchdowns, but three interceptions. Senior wide receiver Eric Baker caught eight passes for 70 yards while Christian King was the recipient of six passes for 89 yards. Junior running back Tye Anderson gained 53 yards on 12 carries and on defense, senior safety Ryder Eddy had seven tackles while senior linebacker Darius Blue pitched in with half a dozen more.

“He put in the work,” Thomas said of Eddy. “I don’t know what else to say about him. I can speak for hours about Ryder. He’s a leader. In the offseason, his work ethic is infectious to other people. He made sure that Tye was putting in the work. It’s one thing to prop yourself up and do your own work. It’s another thing to grab a teammate and say, ‘no, we’re going to maximize your ability’. That’s why Tye is so hard to bring down, because he made Tye work.”

The Dons will wrap up the season at Bellflower High tonight, hoping to pick up their first league win and second overall.

“I would like to see us continue to fight,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to see us roll over. I want to see what our true character is. There’s nothing to play for except pride.”



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