Saugus football (3-1) handed Simi Valley (3-1) its first loss of the season in a defensive battle Thursday night at Canyon.
The Centurions’ defense shined brighter and held the Pioneers scoreless through the second half.
Saugus was led by two-way standout Jacob Viger. The reigning league Player of the Year had a plethora of tackles, 60 rushing yards and the game-winning field goal.
Saugus quarterback TJ Cataldi had an up-and-down night but made some great plays, finishing 19 of 40 passing with 252 yards and two TDs. Cataldi also rushed for 58 yards.
Cataldi started the scoring with a 40-yard pass to a wide open Khai Ky-Yeith to take a 7-0 lead.
The Pioneers would answer a couple drives later after two punts. Sophomore quarterback Steele Pizzella hit running back Caleb Alvary for a 52-yard bomb. Alvary, lined up as a wideout, managed to break tight coverage and find the end zone.
Pizzella would lead his team with another 50-yard play in the second quarter. The quarterback found Dominic Demaio for a 54-yard strike to give Simi the lead.
Alvary, the team’s leading rusher, was lined up more as a wide receiver than in the backfield.
Saugus worked a long drive with great passing and rushing attacks. After a lackluster first few attempts, Viger sparked the run game with multiple big pickups.
But just when the Centurions looked like they’d work the ball into the red zone, Ky-Yeith went down with a non-contact right knee injury.
Just as Simi started moving the ball, defensive back Gage Sheklow came up with a huge interception of Pizzella just before the halftime break.
The Centurions, however, were turned away on their third straight possession in Pioneer territory after Cataldi threw an interception.
The Pioneers again worked the ball near midfield but lost Caleb Alvary for the rest of the game due to injury.
Dario Sandoval would be the next Centurion defender to keep his team in the game. The captain brought down Pizzella with a strip sack recovered by Saugus.
The Centurions knew they needed to capitalize on yet another turnover and the offense came through.
Cataldi hit AJ Goodman for a 34-yard touchdown catch in the end zone in tight coverage.
The Centurions were back in the game but the Pioneers came up with a potentially game-winning play and blocked the PAT.
The Pioneers had the ball with nearly the whole fourth quarter to go, up one point, but were without their workhorse back Alvary.
Saugus’ defense forced a quick three and out but after the offense worked the ball into Pioneer territory, Cataldi was hit hard on a run, causing him to fumble.
The Centurions came away empty four times in Simi Valley territory.
Saugus forced the third straight three and out and with 6:14 left in the game, worked the ball all the way down to the Simi Valley 6-yard line with plenty of help from the Pioneers.
An unsportsmanlike conduct on Pioneers defensive back Solemn Lincoln gifted Saugus a first down after an incompletion on third down. Lincoln then was called for a pass interference penalty, giving Saugus another first down.
The Centurions kept pounding the ball up the middle, playing it safe. Viger then hit the game-winning field goal with 1:48 left in the game.
Saugus’ defense needed one last stand. Cornerback Jaden Lemmons came up with his final of several great pass deflections on second down.
Saugus was all over the last Pioneer fourth down attempt with a screen pass. The offense went into victory formation but a false start took away the possibility of knee-ing the game away.
Saugus would punt and give Simi one last chance with eight seconds left on their own 17-yard line but an interception from Goodman ended the defensive battle.
The Centurions now get back in the win column just in time for league. Their next assignment will be a trip to Valencia. The Vikings and Centurions open up league play Friday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. at Valencia.