The Saugus football team runs onto the field in their playoff game at College of the Canyons on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Kyle Kawamoto/Canyons News

Last year, the CIF Southern Section playoffs were canceled for all Californian teams due to COVID-19. This year, things changed as Saugus high school got the chance to make their run in the CIF-SS Division 3 football playoffs Friday night, but the Centurions were forced to make an early exit after falling to Rancho Cucamonga, 21-7.

On Friday, Nov. 4, Saugus (8-1) was coming fresh off their second Foothill League. Valencia forfeited the game last week due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the school, which ultimately gave the Centurions the title for the second straight year.

On the other hand, Rancho Cucamonga (5-5) had an impressive road record of 3-1 before the game on Friday night. So playing in a tough environment does not bother this team.

“We came in focused. Our guys had a good week of practice and really, you know, we’re excited to be part of the playoffs, “said Rancho Cucamonga Head Coach Brian Hildebrand. “We told our guys all week that, you know, we expect you guys to match the intensity and play for all four quarters.”

That’s exactly what they did. On the first drive of the game, the Centurions received the ball, and the Cougars’ defense stalled the drive with a sack.

Jason Harris Jr. (14) stiff arms Vinny Gallagher (33) at College of the Canyons on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Kyle Kawamoto/Canyons News

On the ensuing possession by Rancho Cucamonga, they drove straight down the field and quarterback Xavier Washington found wideout Julian Lundy for the score. It put the Cougars up 7-0 mid-way through the first quarter.

On the next Saugus offensive, drive penalties started to come into play, which seemed to be a problem for Saugus all night. A holding and illegal procedure penalty made the Centurions give the ball right back to Rancho Cucamonga on this drive.

Late in the second quarter, the Centurions’ defense would step up and create a much-needed turnover for Saugus. Cody Collier picked off Xavier Washington near mid-field, giving the Centurions offense a short field to work with.

But the Cougars defense responded fast with a forced fumble on the Centurion’s offensive drive after the pick. They recovered and gave their offense another chance to make up for the mistake they had on the previous possession.

That’s exactly what the Cougars offense did. On the first play of the drive, Washington hit Lundy again for his second touchdown of the game, putting Rancho Cucamonga up 14-0 at halftime.

Jacob Faraldo (26) stiff arms a Rancho Cucamonga player at College of the Canyons on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Kyle Kawamoto/Canyons News

Jacob Faraldo (26) stiff arms Rancho Cucamonga player at College of the Canyons, Friday 110521
In the second half, the Centurions’ defense came up big,getting an interception on Rancho Cucamonga’s first possession of the third quarter.

The Saugus offense desperately needed a score. Being down 14-0 in the third is not ideal for any playoff game. On the pursuing drive after the interception, Saugus drove down the field quickly, getting in the red zone ready to score. But like most of the night, the Centurion red zone offense wasn’t on point.  Saugus turned it over on downs on 4th and short near the goal-line.

The Centurionsgot another stop on defense, hoping their offense can finally get something going. Once again, Saugus was able to get into the red zone pretty easily, but this time was different. Quarterback Brady Welch hit Sebastian Dellaire on a fade route in the left side of the end zone for Saugus’s first score of the game. Putting them in a one-touchdown deficit at 14-7 late in the third quarter.

“When I was on the single side, they kept pressing me and I was beating him, “said Dellaire. “I kept coming to the sideline telling them I’m there, I’ll come down with it. Finally, on one play, we decided to chuck it up and I came down with it.”     

Rancho Cucamonga got the ball back needing someone to step up. Washington did that with multiple Kyler Murray-esque runs giving the Cougars multiple first downs. With his heroics, the Cougars were inside Saugus’ 20, ready to score. As the hero, Washington finished the drive by hitting receiver Jonah Dawson for a touchdown, giving the Cougars a 21-7 lead early in the fourth.

The Saugus offense stepped on the field ready to respond. But unfortunately, they would go threeand-out. To cap things off, Rancho Cucamonga got a sack on third down as well, and Welch left the field with an apparent injury as a result.

Vinny Gallagher (33) breaks up a pass intended for Jason Harris Jr. (14) late in the fourth quarter at College of the Canyons on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Kyle Kawamoto/Canyons News

On the ensuing drive, the Cougars ran a four-minute offense to perfection,running out the clock and getting inside the red zone pretty easily with the help from some Saugus defensive penalties. The Cougars would miss a chip shot field goal.

In the end, it wouldn’t matter since the Cougars ran so much clock that Saugus only had around two minutes left to try and come back. They ultimately didn’t as Dellaire had to take over at QB, which he’s already done this season. But there was no magical ending for Saugus as the clock ran out, solidifying Rancho Cucamonga’s 21-7 win in the first round of the playoffs and giving them a 4-1 road record on the season so far.

Saugus came out a little slow and had multiple offensive and defensive penalties, which hurt them a lot throughout the game. The lack of red zone scoring also hurt Saugus, which turned the ball over on downs twice.

“The game plan was to try and contain number nine, and which, you know, obviously we didn’t do a very good job,” said Saugus Head Coach Jason Bornn. “No matter what he did,he would use his legs to escape and get out of trouble.”

Overall, Bornn was still happy with the energy his team came out with and the resilience they’ve shown all season. Saugus’ season comes to an end, but two straight foothill league titles is a positive for this football team.

Rancho Cucamonga’s next game is on the road Friday night at 7 p.m. against Roosevelt (7-4).

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