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By C. Jayden Smith

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – JSerra used a 21-0 third quarter to push past Sierra Canyon on Friday night, Aug. 19, at JSerra Catholic High School, en route to a 31-17 season-opening victory.

It was a snippet of revenge for the Lions, as the Trailblazers beat JSerra twice last season, including the previous season’s opener and the first round of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs.

Although down 17-7 at halftime, Lions head coach Scott McKnight said the mood in the locker room wasn’t sour, as JSerra knew it had found some success during the first two quarters. 

“We cleaned some things up defensively, and stuck with our plan offensively,” McKnight said. “(When we blocked) that punt, it was huge. It was a huge turning point.” 

After the defense achieved its goal and got the Sierra Canyon offense off the field after only three plays, junior Jared Referente screamed off the edge to block a punt and swing the momentum in the Lions’ direction.

On the ensuing play, junior quarterback Zander Singh lofted the ball to Referente as he snuck out of the backfield and walked into the end zone, cutting the deficit to three points, 17-14. 

JSerra (1-0) forced another three-and-out and started its next possession in opposing territory. Singh escaped the pocket to find receiver Pierce Tanghal for a 38-yard bomb to keep the drive going, then worked the same magic to hit running back George Perez for a touchdown in tight coverage and give the Lions a 21-17 lead. 

“He’s cool under pressure, he doesn’t get rattled, he’s got good awareness,” McKnight said of his quarterback. “He showed some things tonight that we really haven’t seen a lot (of) from him, as far as getting out of the pocket and making plays.”

Following another stop, Perez took a handoff, zipped around the corner and broke a tackle on the way to a blazing 60-yard touchdown run that essentially ended the contest and took all the wind out of the Trailblazers’ sails.

JSerra, who was “wound up” in the first half, according to McKnight, settled down emotionally and played swarming defense to close out the game. The Lions also took the liberty of running out the clock early in the fourth quarter and added a Shayne Daly field goal from 25 yards out to seal the deal at 31-17.

Sierra Canyon (0-1) took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter after a sustained drive featuring pass plays of 17, 22, and 23 yards, the latter of which was a beautiful ball that hit Jaylen’Dai Sumlin in stride in the end zone from quarterback Alonzo Esparza.

Early in the second frame, however, the turnover bug struck, as Esparza threw a pass deep into JSerra territory that was intercepted by junior defensive back Grant Wood. Perez fumbled the ball back to Sierra Canyon on the next play after taking a handoff from his own 3-yard-line.

The Trailblazers converted the fumble into a field goal.

Towards halftime, Perez ripped off a 29-yard run that put Singh in position to sneak into the end zone from one yard out and make the game 10-7.

Sierra Canyon executed well on the last possession before the break and capitalized, as Esparza threw a jump ball to Lavon Brown, who pulled it in with one hand to score and extend the Trailblazers’ lead to 10 points.

Esparza completed 15 of 24 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and fumbled once. Singh went 10-for-19, throwing for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

Brown, who has committed to Colorado State University, caught a game-high six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Perez led all rushers with 142 yards and a score on 16 carries.

JSerra will travel to play Chaminade for its next contest on Friday, Aug. 26.

C. Jayden Smith

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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