By Matt Lechuga
For The Signal
As the seconds ticked off the clock in Hart High School’s 34-23 win over visiting Chaparral High at the College of the Canyons in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 opening round, players on the Indians’ sideline yelled “See you on Monday!”
The statement was full of the elation winning a playoff game brings, but it also was a tinge of relief.
A Saturday film session and Monday practice for Hart were anything but guaranteed as they went into the half trailing 10-6.
“We know what we’re capable of, and now, why not us?” said Indians senior quarterback Zach Johnson. “This is a great first step, we know we have a lot of work to do. We’ll get in the film room tomorrow, touch up on some stuff, and start back again next week.”
Hart’s night got off to a rocky start when it went three-and-out and had its punt blocked on the opening drive. Chaparral only needed two plays to score when Pumas senior quarterback Brock White rushed in for a 6-yard touchdown to give his team an early 7-0 lead.
Hart was more successful on its first drive of the second quarter, picking up big chunks of yards on a 24-yard pass from Johnson to Ryan Tomaszewski, 15 yards on a pass to Ashton Thomas, and 33 yards on a screen pass to Thomas.
Johnson capped the drive by finding running back Taden Littleford slipping out of the backfield for an 8-yard score, but the following PAT was blocked, keeping the Indians behind 7-6.
Chaparral converted a 34-yard field goal on its next drive to bring to score at the half to 10-6.
“We knew we had the game the whole time, it was just coming out and executing,” said Thomas, who finished the game with 11 catches for 127 yards and a score. “All week in practice we were preaching that we had to come out and execute. If we don’t execute, they’re going to go up on us. So that was the key for us, just to come out in the second half and execute.”
The third quarter was all about the big play as Hart (7-4) came out and took its first lead of the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Drew Munoz. Chaparral (7-5) responded with its own long strike on a 55-yard TD rush from Matthew Majel.
Not to be outdone, Hart needed only two plays to take the lead back: a 49-yard screen Johnson to Tomaszewski followed by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Thomas.
Johnson finished the game 20-36 for 324 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers.
MORE: Wildcats begin playoffs with statement win
The teams went back and forth before Littleford put the Indians ahead for good, 34-23, on a 6-yard scoring run.
“Our guys didn’t give up. They knew that even with all the mistakes we made in the first half that we could come back out and do the things we do well and put some points on the board,” said Indians head coach Mike Harrington. “When the offense is scoring, it gives our defense a little more confidence.”
Hart will travel to face San Juan Hills next Friday after the Stallions beat Murrieta Mesa 39-25.