The Hart football team knew how important a win in its regular season finale would be.
A win would put the Indians at 3-3 in Foothill League play and, with some good fortune, would have them in position for a possible playoff spot.
And they did just that, as the Indians (4-6, 3-3) rolled over the Castaic Coyotes (2-8, 0-6) on Thursday night at Valencia High School on Castaic’s senior night.
“We did what we had to do at the start of the game,” Hart head coach Rick Herrington said. “We told them we got to take it to them right away so there’s no question mark or anything like that.”
At 3-3, the Indians are, for now, in fourth place in the Foothill League, behind West Ranch (6-0), Saugus (4-1) and Golden Valley (3-2). Golden Valley would be 4-2 with a win over Saugus and would tie for third with a loss. Valencia is 2-3 and could also tie for third with a win over Canyon.
Only the top three teams will have an automatic bid to the playoffs. Any team that does not automatically get in would have to hope for the selection committee to give them an at-large bid. The CIF-Southern Section brackets are set to be released on Sunday.
“Our guys won’t care. We won’t care where we’re at in the bracket,” Herrington said. “We just got to get to the bracket. That’s all we’re worried about is getting there, and we need a couple of teams in the league to pull through for us tomorrow.”
Hart got out to a fantastic start, pouring on 21 points in the first quarter before putting up another 21 in the second. The Indians eased up a little in the second half, sending out most of their backups.
Hart junior Timmy Larkins threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns before being pulled for the second half. Two of those touchdowns were thrown to junior Shawn Irwin, and the other two to junior Ryan De La Maza.
Hart junior Donovan Dunn scored three touchdowns on the ground and finished with 92 yards on just 11 carries.
“I mean, everything was working,” Dunn said. “The O-line was clicking. The receivers were clicking. Quarterback, running back, everything was clicking. Everything worked.”
Irwin had 138 receiving yards on just four catches. Dunn added three catches for 56 yards.
“To be honest, the line was just doing great,” Larkins said. “The first half, I was getting all the time I needed, guys are running the routes hard and then it was just flowing together.”
The Coyotes were able to take advantage and score a safety on the first possession of the second half, getting a hold in the end zone for an automatic safety, garnering a huge cheer from the Castaic crowd.
Castaic junior Lucas Milan then recorded a couple scores of his own, running one in from 5 yards out before tossing one to junior Paul Lotz midway through the fourth quarter. Milan finished with 215 passing yards and 52 rushing yards.
Milan was in for typical starter Dominic Espinoza. Castaic head coach Tony Uebelhardt held out the sophomore after he left the Coyotes’ game against Saugus two weeks ago with a concussion, not wanting to chance anything.
“I still didn’t trust the concussion protocol on it, you know,” Uebelhardt said. “But Lucas really stepped up in the last two games and really played well for us. You know, I can’t ask for much more from a [5-foot-7-inch] quarterback, but he played his butt off for us.”
Uebelhardt made sure to honor his first six seniors who ever came out for the program four years ago, sending four of them out for the pregame meeting with the officials. Those players were Eddy Miron, Anthony Jameson, Michael Hernandez and Davis Childs. The other two not to be in that meeting were Christian Leon and Davis Cruz, only due to a numbers crunch.
“Our very first year, four years ago, we had 14 kids show up to the first day of summer camp, and those [six] kids are the only ones left from those 14,” Uebelhardt said. “So those kids have been with me since day one. It was a special moment.”
It was also a homecoming of sorts for Uebelhardt, who coached at Hart before coming over to head the program at Castaic. He spent some time after the game talking with the Hart coaches.
“I know all those guys. We still talk frequently,” Uebelhardt said. “But it was nice to play against them and compete against them. Those guys have taught me so much about football and it showed out here tonight.”
Hart now awaits Friday’s games to see where it ends up in the playoffs, or if it is there at all.
“I think, honestly, we’re fine as an underdog,” Larkins said. “In games like against Valencia where we weren’t supposed to win, we came up big and I think it can be a good thing because our guys are gonna be focused, we’re gonna play hard.”
Castaic can hold its head high, winning two games in its first varsity season. Uebelhardt knows how hard it can be to win, especially in the Foothill League, so he’s proud of the effort his players put in and looks forward to the coming seasons.
“It was a tough season and we knew it was going to be hard,” Uebelhardt said. “But the whole message throughout the season was just go and compete. Give me games where we compete with these teams in the Foothill League, and let them know that Castaic is going to be here and you’re going to have to come out and beat us. We’re not just going to give you a game, we’re going to play it out as hard as we can. And you know, these seniors especially set that tone for the next 10-15 years.”