After starting the season 0-2, the Hart football team won three straight games to close out its preleague schedule on a positive note.
The Indians continued that positive trend on Friday night at College of the Canyons, defeating Saugus 35-20 to begin their Foothill League slate.
Senior running back Taden Littleford led the way for Hart’s offense, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He finished with 186 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, including a 53-yard run in the first half and a 62-yard run near the end of the game to seal it.
“I felt great but it’s all about the linemen,” Littleford said. “They opened up the holes and I just follow, that’s it.”
“He can go, he goes the whole game and he doesn’t stop,” linebacker Travis Gill said about Littleford. “I thought he’d be tired after the game, he’s carrying the load, but he finds a way to get it done. He’s a beast.”
Gill led a Hart (4-2 overall, 1-0 in Foothill League) defense that shut out Saugus (3-3 overall, 0-1 in Foothill League) in the first half and pressured quarterback Colton FitzGerald throughout the contest.
The linebacker recorded a sack and also had an interception and a fumble recovery.
“I think we played very well on defense in the first half,” Gill said. “They got a couple of drives and big plays in the second half. We got the ‘W,’ created turnovers when it mattered, that’s what it comes down to.”
“We really stepped up as a group, as a defense,” said defensive back Ashton Thomas. “As the season goes on we’re becoming more of a nucleus and that’s really what I love to see. Everybody making plays, everybody stepping up. It just can’t be one person. The defense is all 11 guys, I’m proud of them.”
Hart struck on its opening drive of the game, as quarterback Zach Johnson methodically drove the offense down the field, then capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The very next drive, Littleford carried the ball three times for a total of 63 yards, including his 53-yard scamper, that concluded with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Hart’s third touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal from the Centurions’ 14-yard line, as Johnson was able to evade pressure to buy time and find an open Thomas in the end zone.
Johnson completed 18-of-29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns plus 18 yards on the ground and a rushing score.
The senior signal-caller showed great rapport with Thomas, who acted as his safety valve all night. Thomas was able to keep drives alive with several big catches, including the touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal that gave Hart a 21-0 lead at the time. He finished with six receptions for 78 yards plus the score.
“I’ve been with Zach for the past four of five years, since eighth grade,” Thomas said. “We just developed that over time, we know where we’re going to be, I know where he wants to put the ball and it’s just up to me to be in the right spot.”
Saugus came roaring back in the second half, as FitzGerald built a solid drive, including four completions in a row that ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Cade Gallagher.
However, Johnson was able to add to Hart’s lead as he connected with Angelo Lucchese on a deep ball for a 49-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, giving Hart a commanding 28-7 advantage.
Lucchese finished the game with seven catches for 98 yards and a score. Ryan Tomaszewski added three catches for 36 yards.
The Centurions didn’t give in and kept battling, and FitzGerald was able to find Azariah Beaugard for a 12-yard score to bring the score to 28-14.
Saugus then went for an onside kick and recovered, leading to an 8-yard touchdown pass from FitzGerald to Gallagher to bring the score to 28-20 after the PAT was missed.
Once again, Saugus went for the onside kick and almost recovered, but the Centurions couldn’t get a grip on the ball as it trickled out of bounds. Shortly after, Littleford broke off his 62-yard run to get near the goal line and put the final stamp on the game.
“Everything is repairable, it’s not doom and gloom,” said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn. “We have to go back to the drawing board and work on the things we need to work on, catching the ball, making the blocks, running the right routes, making sure our center can hear the quarterback, different things like that.
“It’s all repairable. You like to think that we’ve had two weeks to prepare for tonight’s contest we wouldn’t have to go back and repair things, but it is what it is.”
FitzGerald finished the contest 20-of-34 for 251 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 18 yards.
Beaugard and Gallagher led the Saugus receivers with five catches each for 61 and 60 yards respectively. Gallagher had two touchdowns and Beaugard had one.
Saugus tight end Zach Swartz added two catches for 32 yards and running back Julian Bornn had 39 receiving yards on three catches, plus 21 rushing yards on three carries. Senior back Josh Bond finished with 42 total yards (21 on the ground and 21 through the air).
The Indians will have another challenge awaiting next week as they take on the Valencia Vikings, who won their league opener against Canyon 31-7.
“We got to step it up this week, 110%, no messing around, pumping weight, just giving it our all,” Littleford said. “It’s all heart in this game and we just got to put it all out there.”
The Centurions will look to rebound against the Golden Valley Grizzlies, who lost their league opener to West Ranch 52-13.