Cleveland defeats Taft in West Valley opener

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Kory Hall hauls in touchdown catch in second half of Cleveland's 40-28 win over Taft Friday night.

The West Valley League kicked off play on Friday night and the action in Woodland Hills did not disappoint. The Cavaliers held off a late rally by Taft to secure a 40-28 victory and move to 1-0 in West Valley play.

If you need evidence that these teams understand the stakes are high in league play, look no further than what transpired right before kickoff. The Cavaliers gathered at the midfield logo to bark at the Taft bench as they entered the field. “We understood what that’s all about,” said Taft head coach Fred Emerson on the scenes before kickoff. “There’s a lot of stuff said online, but at the end of the day, we're confident in what we are trying to build here and it’s going to ruffle some feathers. If we are going to get where we want to go, we know what kind of energy that is going to get thrown at us.”

Once the barking was done, football began, and both offenses showed the ability to move the football. The difference in the first half was Cleveland’s ability to finish their drives, and they took a 21-0 lead into the break. Kory Hall had another of his signature performances, bolstering the Cavaliers' attack in the first half, with two long touchdowns, one receiving and one rushing. Donovan Powell also found the endzone with a rushing touchdown to help build the three-touchdown advantage for the Cavs at the half. Taft’s most promising drive ended with a Kory Hall interception in the endzone in the late stages of the second quarter. “Kory is a special talent,” said Cleveland head coach Pete Gunny on his talented star’s performance. “We spread the ball around to a lot of weapons, but he is a leader on this team, and we lean on his ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball every week.

In the second half, the Cavs offense picked up where it left off, with Isaac Delgado finding Kory Hall in the endzone for a 30-yard passing touchdown to extend the lead to 27-0. Taft’s offense woke up and after a long drive led by bruising running back Micheal Mansaray, the Toreadors punched it in from two yards out to get Taft on the board. The Cavs would answer back with a touchdown of their own in the form of a rushing touchdown by Delgado to give Cleveland a 34-6 lead heading into the final period of play.

After the two teams exchanged turnovers, Taft quarterback Devon Conroy began to find his groove in the fourth quarter, as the Toreadors marched down the field and hit a touchdown pass to Erik Koron to cut the deficit to 34-14. After a successful onside kick recovery, the Toreadors marched right back down the field. Conroy connected on another touchdown pass, this time to Jacob Peery to make the score 34-20. The Toreadors tried to keep the momentum going with another onside kick that they recovered, but the referees ruled the Toreadors touched the ball a half-yard early which resulted in Cleveland receiving the ball near midfield. The Cavs took advantage of the field position with a long screen pass touchdown to Usman Ajayi to push the score to 40-20. Conroy would respond with another touchdown to cut the deficit to 40-28, but that was as close as they would get before the final horn blared. “I thought the team played well tonight,” said Gunny on the Cavs win. “We made some mistakes, and let some opportunities slip that would have made it harder on them, including three dropped interceptions, but it was a good night. We have some things to clean up, but I'm happy where we are heading into a tough game next week.”

Despite the loss, Taft showed signs of their explosive potential in the second half, outscoring Cleveland 28-19. “The missed opportunities to score in the first half are going to keep me up tonight thinking about what we could have done in that first half,” said Emerson after the game. “We know what we are capable of and we would look to build on this next week.”

The Cavaliers moved to 1-0 in the West Valley, and 5-1 overall. They will have a tough test at home Friday night hosting Granada Hills, who will be looking to bounce back from their 31-0 loss to Birmingham in their West Valley opener. Taft falls to 0-1 in the West Valley and 2-4 overall. They’ll host El Camino Real next Friday night.

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