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By Zach Cavanagh
ANAHEIM – The first two games of the season have been physical battles for the San Juan Hills football team. For a group already dealing with some key injuries, attrition is kicking in early, and the Stallions have started on the wrong end of things for a second straight season.
Cypress held down a shorthanded San Juan Hills offense and scored on explosive passing plays and two pick-sixes to pull away from the visiting Stallions, 35-10, on Thursday, Aug. 25, at Handel Stadium in Anaheim.
“They’re a good football team,” San Juan Hills coach Rob Frith said. “We saw on film that they’re very well coached. They play really hard, and they have some really good football players that made some plays tonight. At the end of the day, the team they had on the field was better tonight. All credit to Cypress, to their staff, to their players.”
San Juan Hills (0-2) is on the road again next week at Roosevelt of Eastvale. The Stallions lost their first five games last season, and their schedule features the same opponents through the first five games this season. San Juan Hills will also have to adapt to be road warriors with just three home games, with the next and second of which isn’t until Sept. 23 against El Modena.
It has been and will continue to be an uphill battle for the Stallions, as they began the season without senior offensive line starters Enzo Benzan and Ryan MacDougall. San Juan Hills also lost senior tight end Brayden Buckler to a broken finger last week, and sophomore starting quarterback Michael “Butter” Tollefson went down with a hip injury in the third quarter on Thursday.
As a result, the San Juan Hills offense struggled to run the ball, and Tollefson was chased out of the pocket early and often.
“I wouldn’t say it’s just not having those linemen, but when you’re down some guys it does affect things a little bit,” Frith said. “Maybe the pass protection guys are getting in a little bit quicker. I would say that they (Cypress) did a good job. They’re bringing five or six guys every single play, so it does make it difficult to run the football.”
Tollefson completed 13 of 23 passes for 127 yards and an interception returned for a touchdown. Tollefson also carried the ball 10 times for 26 yards.
On the other side, Cypress (2-0) electric on offense.
The Centurions sprung themselves onto the scoreboard in the first quarter with a 70-yard touchdown pass from Aidan Houston to Blake Cousimano and a 35-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Monteleone that was finished with a dive to the pylon for the 14-0 lead.
San Juan Hills came back with an answer, but the Stallions got a bit of help.
Tollefson chucked a ball deep down the center of the field, which was coming short of its target and was grabbed by a Cypress defender. However, despite the Cypress defender seemingly having inside position on the ball, the play was flagged for pass interference.
San Juan Hills immediately took advantage as Tollefsen hit a sprinting Colton Chase, who was pulled down just short of the goal line on a 40-yard pass. Sullivan Land capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put San Juan Hills on the board.
However, as the first half rolled on, the Stallions couldn’t take advantage of two interceptions by junior Isaiah Bennett, and only had a missed field goal to show for it, as they headed to the locker room down 14-7 at halftime.
Cypress managed to swing the momentum completely in its direction early in the second half, but it wasn’t on the opening onside kick, which the Centurions recovered.
On San Juan Hills first drive of the half, Cypress defensive end Kaden Hollenbeck snatched a pass attempt at the line of scrimmage and returned the interception 35 yards untouched for the score and a 21-7 lead.
That effectively ended the game, as Tollefson was injured on San Juan Hills’ next drive on a run out of bounds. Max Ricaurte knocked in a 27-yard field goal on the drive, but that was all the Stallions would get.
Cypress truly sealed the game four plays later on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Matthew Morrell. Morrell caught eight passes for 115 yards. Houston completed 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns.
“What surprised me is how good their receiver is, Morrell,” Frith said. “He’s dude. He’s one of the better wide receivers I’ve seen. He made some fantastic plays tonight. When you have a guy like that, you get the ball in his hands with a tiny little bit of space and he’s gone.”
In the fourth quarter, Monteleone picked up his second touchdown of the day, as he intercepted San Juan Hills freshman backup quarterback Tristan Zale and returned the ball 47-yards for the 35-10 lead.
In the postgame huddle, Frith told his player its a long season and a tough schedule to go, but he was proud of the way his team finished the game, despite the score.
“Even when the inevitable was we were going to lose, I saw guys playing really hard,” Frith said. “I saw guys on defense flying around, throwing their bodies in there.”
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.