Hart football looks confident on the road against San Juan Hills

Hart's Taden Littleford (6) runs the ball to the 12 yard line for a first down against Chaparral at College of the Canyons on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Later today, the Hart football team continues the conquest of a CIF-Southern Section Division 4 title on the road at San Juan Hills.

The Indians (7-4) are coming off a 34-23 come-from-behind home win against Chaparral where they found themselves trailing 10-6 at the half. They mounted a furious rally behind the arm of quarterback Zach Johnson, who finished the game with 328 yards and four passing touchdowns on 21-of-35 pass attempts.

Wide receiver Ashton Thomas was Johnson’s favorite recipient on the night. Thomas caught 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown and he now leads the team with 73 catches for 1,025 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns.

Johnson will look to repeat the performance against a Stallions team that gave up the second-most points allowed all year long in a 39-25 win over Murrieta Mesa, the Southwestern League’s third-place team.

“I’m always confident in my guys and in our abilities.  I think we have a really, really good team and we can be as good as we want to be,” Johnson said. “I feel like the team that we were in the second half last week is what we are going to have the whole game in order to put ourselves in a position to be successful. That second half really showed us a lot about ourselves as a team, how we came together at halftime and executed.” 

Completing at least one pass to six different players in the win, Johnson connected with receivers Drew Munoz and Luke Madison as well as running back Taden Littleford for a receiving touchdown.

Johnson enters the second-round matchup with 2,591 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 

“In our scheme of things we don’t look for one guy. We run combination patterns and whoever is open, is open,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington. “We will see what happens tomorrow night. It’s all up to Zach to read the defense and find the open guys.”

San Juan Hills (8-3) counters with junior quarterback Hudson Jones behind center. Jones led the Stallions to back-to-back Sea View League titles and finished with 2,071 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and three interceptions on the year.

Jones also has a flurry of more than capable wide receivers, including his favorite target on the season, Joey Hobert, who has caught 67 passes for 1,076 yards and 16 touchdowns.

James Gaines is second on the team with 30 receptions for 335 yards and six receiving touchdowns.

The X-factor will come down to each team’s rushing attacks as both school’s leading rushers have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season.

Littleford has scored a rushing touchdown in all but one game this season, rushing for 1,287 yards on 221 carries and has 19 total touchdowns on the year. 

“Taden is a talented running back and he knows how to find those holes, but it’s up to the offensive line to create those holes,” Herrington said. “Hopefully our offensive line has a good night against a very, very good defensive front for San Juan Hills.” 

The Stallions leading rusher Austin Hogan has eerily similar numbers rushing 209 times for 1,193 yards and has 14 total touchdowns. He has rushed for over 100 yards in seven of the 11 games played this season.

Defensive end Dylan Vradenburg, who leads Hart with six sacks on the year, Travis and Blake Gill and Leighton McCarthy will be in charge of plugging the holes and getting to the running back before he can reach the second level.

“Hopefully, we play disciplined defense. We have to be in our positions, doing our techniques and that’s what the guys have done when we are successful and we hope that the situation tonight,” Herrington said. “Disciplined defense, knowing our responsibilities and getting after it.”

Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at San Juan Hills Badlands Stadium.

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