MONROVIA — It is hard to have a competitive football game when the visiting team is forced to use trickery and misdirection to overcome the superior speed, strength, skill and execution of the home team.
That was in full display Friday night as La Cañada High visited Monrovia in a Rio Hondo league contest and was routed by the home team, 49-3.
“It’s bringing a knife to a gun fight,” said La Cañada Coach James Sims of his team matching up with Monrovia, which is ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division. “They have speed all over the field.”
The two-time defending Mid-Valley Division champion Wildcats, who have finished atop the league standings each of the last five years, destroyed the visiting Spartans in all aspects of the contest to the tune of a 14-point lead 1:38 into the game, a 42-0 advantage at halftime — after which the Wildcats starters did not see the field again — and a 49-0 cushion going into the fourth quarter, which saw the referees mercifully run the clock.
A bit of a moral victory was had late in the contest, when the Spartans avoided the shutout, as Aidin Tourani kicked a 44-yard field goal on the last play of the game to avoid the shutout.
“The kids didn’t want me to have any shutouts since I’ve been here in California, so they preserved that,” Sims said. “So, hey, we got a goal out of the game and we’re going to go back on Monday and work hard.”
After La Cañada’s Grant Owen ran for a 15-yard gain, the Spartans (1-6, 0-2) called timeout to stop the running clock with 18 seconds left. Tourani lined up for the field goal try — his third of the half — and drove it through the uprights as the final whistle blew.
“It was pretty important not to get shut out,” Tourani said. “It wasn’t looking amazing for us. It was something more about pride than the loss at all. On that last kick there was a lot of pressure. I’m just really happy I got my mojo together.”
Against Monrovia (5-2, 2-0), the two Spartans quarterbacks who have started so far this season combined to throw seven interceptions. Four of those picks were thrown by junior Robbie Fuelling, who took over the starting duties for senior Matt Jones four games back and took all the snaps at quarterback. However, four different Spartans threw passes in the first quarter alone. The first throw came from Jones, who now starts at fullback, on the Spartans’ third snap on offense after the senior took a handoff from Fuelling and was intercepted by Wildcat Deshawn Potts. On the next play, Monrovia quarterback Blake Heyworth threw his first pass for a 27-yard touchdown to Octavius Spencer. Heyworth, a St. Francis transfer, would finish eight of 18 for 185 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Fuelling’s third pass, coming in the second possession of the game on offense for La Cañada, was intercepted by Wildcat Jeremy Haney and returned 14 yards for a touchdown. Following the point-after-touchdown kick by Mason Bryant, who was a perfect six for six in that category, La Cañada trailed 14-0 at the 10:22 mark of the first quarter.
Two more Spartans players threw passes in the next La Cañada offensive possession and both completed them. The first was a bizarre fake punt that saw Tourani take the long snap, then throw the ball underhanded in a high arc over the center of the line with the nose of the ball always facing skyward as it spiraled for a 15-yard completion to Mario Del Cueto to prolong the drive. Later in that drive, which did end with a turnover on downs, Owen took a handoff and threw for a 12-yard gain to Jones.
Owen, who made all of his throws after being handed the ball, led the Spartans in passing, going three for five for 49 yards. This included a 33-yard completion to Del Cueto after getting the ball on a reverse in the second quarter. Owen, a senior, also led La Cañada in rushing with 42 yards on 12 carries. Del Cueto led his team in receiving with the two catches for 48 yards. Fuelling finished one for 20 for seven yards and the four interceptions. Jones was zero for four with three interceptions.
“Robbie will come back next year and have this game experience,” Sims said of the benefits of grinding through such a lopsided defeat.
Monrovia put up 21 points in both the first and second quarters and turned their five pickoffs into 28 points. Freshman Anthony Marquez had the Wildcats’ only touchdown of the second half on a five-yard run one play after Fuelling’s final interception.
“[The Spartans] were trying to do what they could to put something together,” Monrovia Coach Ryan Maddox said. “You know, it is what it is.”