SAN BERNARDINO – The Citrus Valley High football program had lost all seven Citrus Belt League games it played against powerhouse Cajon before last week’s game. It hoped this season would be different. It wasn’t.
Cajon dominated the error-prone and short-handed Blackhawks 31-21 Friday, Oct. 1, before a packed house in North San Bernardino.
“Let’s put the blame where it belongs, right on me,” Citrus Valley coach Kurt Bruich said. “They did a way better job coaching. Their kids performed a lot better than ours and that’s the coach’s fault.”
Bruich also refused to blame his team’s faulty execution on personnel. Starting quarterback Hunter Herrera broke his collarbone in the previous game against Centennial of Corona and was replaced by Kade Finazzo. And top receiver Sergio Cervantes was in concussion protocol following the game against the state-ranked Huskies.
“It [lack of execution] had nothing to do with it,” Bruich said. “We played without those same two kids [Herrera and Cervantes] against Orange Vista and we won 35-0.”
Then there’s Cajon, a tough mystery to solve under the best of circumstances. The Cowboys are shooting for their fifth consecutive Citrus Belt League title.
“They’re a good football team,” Bruich said. “They’re undefeated for a reason.”
Things started well for Citrus Valley as defensive back Jelani McLaughlin intercepted quarterback Martinez Miles Jr.’s first pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. The Blackhawks led 7-0.
But Cajon swept down the field on its next possession with strong running by senior Freddy Fletcher to score. Ethan Powell did the honors with a 20-yard catch for a touchdown from Miles Jr. with 7:19 left in the first quarter.
“He’s the reigning [league] MVP from last year – he’s a great football player,” Cajon coach Nick Rogers said of Fletcher. “When the game’s on the line, we give him the football.”
Citrus Valley fumbled near midfield on its next possession and the ball was recovered by Maika Esau. The Cowboys quickly moved into scoring position on a 31-yard pass from Miles Jr. to Jeyquan Smith. Then Fletcher bolted over from one and Cajon led 14-7.
Cajon senior team captain Chris Williams recovered two key Citrus Valley fumbles. The first one came toward the end of the first quarter. It led to a 27-yard field goal by Aidan Morris, increasing
Cajon’s lead to 17-7 after one quarter.
“We can’t hear you,” Cajon fans chanted at Citrus Valley in mocking fashion.
Citrus Valley had a chance to move to within seven points with a nice drive directed by Finazzo at the end of the first half, but the Blackhawks missed a field goal.
Things appeared to be getting away from Citrus Valley early in the third quarter when Cajon capped a drive with a 4-yard TD pass from Miles Jr. to Rae Ford for 24-7. But Citrus Valley leapt right back into it three plays later, on Jeremiah Claiborne’s 71-yard TD sprint over the right side to make it 24-14.
Then came the backbreaker. Citrus Valley had the ball near midfield and was looking to cut into Cajon’s lead. But the Blackhawks fumbled again and Williams’ 50-yard return for a touchdown decided it.
Not even a 33-yard TD pass from Citrus Valley’s versatile Brockton Lium to Gene Gallegos could save the Blackhawks (4-2, 0-1).
“Chris Williams is a four-way player for us and a captain and he’s a leader,” Rogers said. “He had the scoop and score and once he had it in his hands, I knew he wasn’t going to get caught because he’s one of our faster players.”
Asked to explain Cajon’s mastery against Citrus Valley, Rogers said, “Things go our way sometimes. Defensively I think we played extremely well. Offensively, we’re still finding our way.”
Fletcher rushed for 170 yards to lead Cajon and receivers Powell and Smith were constant threats.
Claiborne rushed for 156 yards and one score for Citrus Valley. But the Blackhawks lost three fumbles and passed for only 103 yards – 53 yards from Finazzo and 50 from Lium who moved over from receiver for part of the second half.
Citrus Valley plays Redlands East Valley at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8. Cajon girds for a battle of unbeatens as it travels to meet Yucaipa (6-0, 1-0), also at 7 p.m. Friday.