Welcome back, Strathmore High football.
Hard grass. Clodded cleats. Ball pounding, interior rushing, falling forward, knocking backwards, run until the clock zeroes out football is back.
With running back Carlos Moreno serving as Plans A through Y, the Spartans survived their Division 5 postseason debut with a 28-20 helmet smasher against visiting Taft in Friday’s Central Section first-round playoff game.
It wasn’t that close. It was actually even closer.
“I’m not going to say it was easy,” said Moreno, who deadlifted the ball 28 times for 284 yards, career highs every one. “It was hard, but we got the job done.”
You better believe the Spartans did, and it isn’t the first time. Strathmore (10-1) won its 10th straight Central Section playoff game – extending its school record. The previous nine led them to three consecutive Division 6 section championships, their reward being a bump up a class this autumn.
It took every ounce of violent running Moreno could muster, and every push and shove his offensive line could summons, to hold off a Wildcats team that finished the year 4-7.
To think, this game had all the makings of a second-half running clock when it started.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Moreno galloped through a double-wide gap and past the secondary for a 65-yard touchdown run and 6-0 lead.
On the next drive, Moreno bounced outside and ripped off an 86-yard touchdown run on Strathmore’s third offensive play.
Put that into context. Moreno had 165 yards on his first three carries. The 1,000-yard rusher had run for that many yards in just two games this year.
“We’ve been looking for him to have that breakout game all year,” Strathmore coach Jeromy Blackwell said. “He’s been hesitant all year, it seems. How many yards did you say he had?”
Virtually every single one of them, as far as Strathmore totals go.
Moreno owned 188 of his team’s 225 yards in the first half. By game’s end, he accounted for 284 yards of total offense – taking personal ownership of all but 61 of his team’s yards.
“I was fired up for this game,” Moreno said. “We really had to push through the whole way.”
Moreno’s 27-yard touchdown run gave Strathmore a 20-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Taft opened the second half with a touchdown drive that cut the lead to 20-14.
The Strathmore crowd was hushed, sighing in relief instead of cheering for first downs. The sideline was tense, coaches muttering for someone to stop Taft running back Chad Berry, who gouged them for 158 yards.
Moreno proved unstoppable. Strathmore got the ball for the first time in the second half with 8 minutes, 8 seconds in the third quarter.
By the time the Spartans gave the ball back, it was the fourth quarter. Quarterback Trace Pugh, who completed 3 of 5 passes for 52 yards, snuck in a 1-yard touchdown run, then found receiver Lee Navarro for a 2-point conversion for a 28-14 lead.
Taft cut the lead to 28-20 with 6:13 to play in the game. What did Strathmore do?
Finished a game of keep away, holding the ball to the end of the game before Pugh took a victory knee at the Wildcats 1-yard line.
The defending champs survived to play another day. The game itself lasted but 1 hour, 56 minutes from start to finish. Taft had the ball just twice in the entire second half.
“We just want to play one more game, have one more practice,” Blackwell said. “I didn’t know much about Division 5 football.
“This is an all new challenge.”
STRATHMORE 28, TAFT 20
Taft (4-7) 0 7 7 6 – 20
Strathmore (10-1) 12 8 0 8 – 28
S: Carlos Moreno 65 run (kick failed)
S: Moreno 86 run (run failed)
T: Team 24 pass from Garrett Jeffries (Chad Berry kick)
S: Moreno 27 run (Lee Navarro run)
T: Jacob Ellis 46 pass from Jeffries (Berry kick)
S: Trace Pugh 1 run (Navarro pass from Pugh)
T: Berry 1 run (pass failed)
RUSHING – T: Berry 29-158, Jeffries 5-19, Austin Massey 5-45, Other 13-47. S: Moreno 28-271, Christian Onsurez 3-8, Pugh 5-5, Cristian Rodriguez 2-0.
PASSING – T: Jeffries 1-4-1-70. S: Pugh 3-5-0-52, Moreno 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING – T: Ellis 1-46, Team 1-24. S: Sebastian Gonzalez 1-30, Moreno 1-13, Navarro 1-18.