By Jon Stein
For The Signal
Saugus, a team historically known for its rushing attack, made it a point this season to showcase a more balanced offensive game plan.
That trend continued in Friday’s 32-15 CIF-Southern Section Division 4 loss to Villa Park at College of the Canyons.
With Villa Park willing to trust one-on-one coverage on the outside, the Centurions were determined to push the ball deep downfield on routes down both sidelines.
Saugus wide receivers found themselves open deep throughout the contest, but overthrows, underthrows and drops stymied the Saugus attack every time.
“That’s a big, physical team up front,” said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn. “We knew running the ball would be a challenge.”
As the Spartans adjusted throughout the first half, the Centurions (8-4) followed suit at halftime, moving the ball on the ground on their opening drive of the third quarter and getting on the board on a 7-yard touchdown run from Devin Thompson to pull within 19-7.
On the 15-play drive, quarterback Cole Gallagher was injured after moving the Centurions into Spartan territory.
Backup Brayden Giraldo stepped in, completing a 13-yard pass and rushing for another 19 on the drive. He would add a 1-yard touchdown run late in the game.
“We saw something from the first half we could take advantage of,” Bornn said.
Gallagher returned to start the fourth quarter, but the Saugus drive was cut short on the senior’s fourth interception of the night.
After Villa Park (12-0) pinned Saugus at its 1-yard line on a punt, Gallagher’s first throw of the game was a catchable ball to an opener receiver across the middle; the ball, though, bounced high into the air and was intercepted by John Tu’avao, who returned it to the Saugus 1-yard line before Anthony Hakai punched it in for 6-0 Spartans lead.
“We came into this game thinking they were a passing team,” said Villa Park head coach Dusan Ancich. “We were fortunate to get some turnovers.”
Hakai finished with three touchdowns for Villa Park, two on the ground to go along with 142 yards on 21 carries and another score on a six-yard reception.
As Villa Park continued to move the ball with a healthy dose of Hakai, the Saugus defense did its best to keep the Centurions in the game.
Trailing 12-0, Saugus’ Matthew Ballentine intercepted quarterback Paul Piferi and returned the ball to the Saugus 35.
But after another deep shot sailed long down the sideline, Gallagher was picked off on a quick-out route to his left by Dylan Bonilla, who returned it for a touchdown and a 19-0 Spartans’ lead with 4:14 remaining in the first half.
It was Bonilla’s second interception of the night and the third for the Spartans.
He would add a third later in the game.
“When you turn the ball over once it’s going to be tough,” Bornn said. “We had four. You make it really difficult for yourself.”