Dons squeak by the Lancers 17-14
The Dons' defense stepped up when needed with a big defensive stand at the end of the fourth quarter, returning Verdugo Hills to the win column. The Grant Lancers recovered a live ball on the kickoff after they had scored a controversial touchdown to cut the score to 17-14 with under three minutes to go in the game. The Dons held off the Lancers in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to win the game 17-14. It was a bit of relief for the entire team following a three-game losing streak, to get the weight off their back as they improved their record to 4-3.
Even though the Dons got that much-needed win, head coach Sean Jackson was not impressed with his team's victory.
“We escaped from this game,” Jackson said. “We have been continuing to shoot ourselves in the foot for the last four weeks, but I will say our defense is what kept us in the game. Grant should have won this game but they gave this one away to us”.
Jackson pointed out that big mistakes are what almost cost the Dons a victory. He said the team's record should have been better than their current position at 4-3.
“Mistake-free football is what we have been preaching all season,” Jackson said. “I still believe there is hope for us. We have players who are trying to recover from injuries but we must cut down on the turnovers”.
Both the Dons and the Lancers had a big issue with turnovers where both teams threw too many interceptions in the game. Lancers head coach Franco Stasilli said his players had a chance to win the game but they just did not execute. He said too many mistakes cost the Lancers the win.
“We did not execute well enough to win the game,” Stasilli said. “Verdugo let us back in the game but we did not deserve to win because we made too many silly mistakes that cost us the game. To put it simply we just shoot ourselves in the foot”.
The first quarter did not have much action but, Luis Rodriguez kicked a 35-yard field goal to give the Dons a 3-0 lead midway through the quarter.
In the final minutes of the first quarter, Verdugo Hills got the ball and got into field goal range and time ran out as the Dons took the 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. They switched sides but in the opening seconds of the second quarter, Rodiguez missed a 54-yard field goal and the score remained 3-0.
The Lancers were able to eventually strike back during a chaotic few plays with 31 seconds remaining in the half. Verdugo Hills stopped the Lancers and forced a fumble near the goal line. The Dons recovered the fumble, giving the offense another chance to score, but it would not be. Shortly after the fumble, Rodiguez would throw an interception giving Grant another chance to score. With less than 20 seconds on the clock, the Lancers’ Matthew Gonzalez scores to give Grant a 7-3 lead at the half.
The third quarter started at a slow pace where both teams turned the ball over. With 2:44 on the clock in the third quarter, the Dons’ Naithan Chavez ran in for a 20-yard touchdown giving the Dons a 10-7 lead. Chavez said it was perfect timing by the offense.
“We saw a match-up from the outside;” Chavez said. “I was outside by myself, I took a chance and I ran it in”.
Chavez mentioned that the three straight losses have woken up the entire team knowing that it is time to get the job done. He said his teammates responded well in the second half.
“We came out knowing that we had a job to do,” Chavez said. “We picked up the missing pieces that were missing and we overcame adversity. As a team we just got to keep it up and work hard during practice and take it from there”.
Shortly after Chavez scored the Dons got the ball back on a Lancers turnover, setting another scoring chance for the Dons, and this time Verdugo would capitalize. With 1:30 left on the clock, Alex Shahnazaryan would score a touchdown that would give the Dons a 17-7 lead going into the fourth quarter. Shahnazaryan said it was not easy.
“It was a pretty difficult touchdown for me;” Shahnazaryan said. "The first player on the defense edge rushed me and luckily I managed to slip away then another player came to tackle me and I also was able to get away from him. After I broke away from the two defenders it was all open grass for me and I got into the end zone”.
Shahnazaryan also said that he has not let go or forgotten about those three straight losses. He took the negatives and turned them into positives as a motivation factor.
“For me personally, I did not let go of the three games that we lost;” Shahnazaryan said. “I always visualize success through those failures”.
Both the Dons and the Lancers turned the fourth quarter into a defensive slugfest where both teams turned the ball over back and forth. With 3:35 left in the game, the Lancers scored a controversial touchdown. The Verdugo Hills coaching staff argued that the Lancers did not have possession of the ball to score a touchdown and therefore the officials should have ruled it a touchback when the Dons covered the ball.
However, Verdugo Hills did not win the argument with the officials and the touchdown would stand with the Lancers trailing 17-14. Luis Rodiguez, who became the injury replacement starting quarterback for the Dons, explained how he set up the two touchdown passes. Rodiguez said that his coaches got him ready.
“This was my first time playing quarterback this year,” Rodiguez said. I read that the defensive back was playing inside so we threw the outside ball and it was a great call by my coaches”.
Rodiguez also said for the offense to finish up a successful season and squeeze into the playoffs, the entire offense needs better communication with each other.
“We just have to have better communication,” Rodiguez said. “Our offense needs to practice the scenarios that are being instructed by our coaches and we have to work on it and get better”.
Next week the Dons travel to San Fernando to face the Chavez Eagles. The game time is 7:00 p.m. The Lancers return home to host the Arleta Mustangs. Game time is also scheduled for 7:00 p.m.