By Matt Lechuga
For The Signal
Friday night’s game between Hart and Moorpark at Canyon High School was billed as a matchup of relatively even teams.
And for the first half of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoff opener, it was. But turnovers and negative plays by the Indians gave Moorpark all the room it needed to pull away in the second half, leading to a disappointing 42-28 loss for host Hart.
“We did not play a good game,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington. “We fought, but we did not play a good game. We didn’t come through the way we should have come through. That team was very beatable but we did not come through.”
Moorpark (8-3) didn’t wait long to grab the lead when on its third play of the game, quarterback Steven McDaniel hit Jake Mateko for a 75-yard touchdown.
Hart (6-5) took a more methodical approach for its first points with an 11-play drive that culminated in a 4-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Zach Johnson to Michael Colangelo, tying the game at 7-7.
For the rest of the first quarter and most of the second, neither team could get within striking distance until just over a minute left when Moorpark lined up for a 20-yard field goal, only to botch the snap and turn the ball over on downs.
The Musketeers made up for the mistake though when Ian Meier picked off Johnson for the second time in the half, this time returning the interception 23 yards for the touchdown and a 13-7 lead after a missed extra point.
Johnson rebounded and executed a perfect 2-minute drill, leading the Indians quickly down the field before dropping a 38-yard touchdown pass over Colangelo’s left shoulder, giving the Indians a 14-13 lead heading into the half.
From there, though, everything started breaking the Musketeers’ way. A 6-yard TD rush by Alex Powell pushed the Moorpark lead to 21-14 and then the Indians returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, only to have it brought back on a holding penalty.
The drive stalled again when Johnson hit Ashton Thomas for a 14-yard gain that ended with him fumbling the ball away. Hart forced a Moorpark punt but was pinned the at its own 1-yard line and two plays later, from his own end zone, Johnson threw his second pick-6 of the game, pushing the Moorpark lead to 28-14 after three quarters.
The momentum didn’t get any better for Hart in the fourth. The Indians sacked McDaniel and seemingly forced a fumble, but the officials called it an incomplete pass. On the very next play, he hit Drake London for a 66-yard backbreaker, giving the Musketeers a 35-14 lead. The USC-bound London was held to just two catches on the game, but one was enough.
Johnson and the Indians stuck around with a 10-yard TD pass to Jacob Montes, but Moorpark pushed its lead to 42-21 late in the fourth after recovering a Johnson fumble on a sack.
Hart never quit, though, as Johnson hit Coangelo for their final TD connection of the season from 4-yards out to make the final score 42-28.
“I’m proud of the way we kept fighting, even down to the last little bit there,” said Johnson. “The offense produced but it wasn’t enough. I turned the ball over too many times; too many mistakes on my part. Its good we kept fighting and there are some positives to take away offensively, so we just have to roll that into next year.”