Indians turn the ball over three times, Crean Lutheran runs past Hart, 37-21
The Hart Indians football team had every intention of making a deep playoff run this season.
Those plans have now been scrapped after Crean Lutheran senior running back Justin Dominguez recorded a hat trick of scores to lead the Saints (8-3) to a 37-21 victory over the Indians (7-4) in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs on Friday at College of the Canyons’ Cougar Stadium.
“The way we saw it is their offensive line and their defensive line out-did our two lines,” Hart head coach Rick Herrington said. “And that’s what it comes down to.”
Crean Lutheran will now play Simi Valley in the second round after the Pioneers escaped with a 40-34 overtime victory over Rancho Verde on the road.
Dominguez finished with 169 rushing yards on 22 carries. The Saints amassed 250 rushing yards as a team and got all five touchdowns on the ground, with Saints junior Taurian Nash grabbing the other two rushing touchdowns for his team.
“He’s hitting the line,” Herrington said of Dominguez, “and when contact comes, he keeps his legs running, running, running, and our guys stopped their legs, which you can’t tackle people by stopping your legs and hoping you’re just gonna jump on his back.”
Herrington was surprised at how much the Saints ran the ball after seeing how many deep balls they threw throughout the regular season. Saints freshman quarterback Caden Jones threw the ball just 14 times and finished with 79 passing yards on nine completions.
“Their big thing was they throw the ball deep a lot; they didn’t throw one deep ball tonight,” Herrington said. “They didn’t have to because their lines were tearing us up.”
Both teams started off a bit shaky, with four combined turnovers in the first half. The Saints fumbled on the opening possession before forcing a punt out of the Indians, who forced a punt themselves on the ensuing drive. Hart junior Nate Mata picked up a big sack on third down to force a three-and-out.
The Indians gave the ball right back, though, with Saints junior Ben Byszewski grabbing an interception, his first of two on the night. The Saints themselves couldn’t capitalize, fumbling on the first play of their drive.
The Indians finally got their way into the end zone on senior Chris Clauss’s first of two touchdowns with 2:27 to go in the first quarter.
Clauss finished with 80 yards on 12 carries and was one of the main catalysts for the Indians in the first half.
“He played well on offense and played well on defense for a couple plays, but he’s always been there,” Herrington said. “He’s always been there and doing things right for us.”
Crean Lutheran answered with a touchdown from Nash just over a minute into the second quarter. Dominguez made it 14-7 midway through the second quarter on a 3-yard run after Hart senior quarterback Tim Larkins tossed his second interception of the night.
The Indians tied it up at 14-14 with two minutes to play in the first half on Clauss’ second touchdown of the half, but the Saints quickly moved down the field and got a 40-yard field goal from junior Connor Stephens to take a 17-14 lead into the half.
Hart seemed to find a groove on offense in the third quarter, but long, time-consuming drives kept stalling out. Those came back to bite the Indians when Dominguez got his second score of the game early in the fourth.
Larkins hit fellow senior Shawn Irwin for a 40-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to make it a one-possession game once more.
Irwin came alive in the second half, recording eight of his 12 catches. He finished with 150 receiving yards.
After Dominguez scored his third touchdown of the night, the Indians turned the ball over on downs, falling just a couple of yards short of moving the chains. Byszewski recorded his second interception to seal the game on the ensuing drive.
Larkins was forced out of the pocket seemingly every play, making it difficult for him to find the open receiver.
“You can’t do that and win games,” Herrington said. “You can’t expect to win if you’re not going to block.”
Larkins completed 18 of 32 passes for 188 yards in his final high school game.
This now makes it four years without a playoff win for the Indians, who last won in 2019 over Chaparral. The Indians lost in the first round of the Division 7 playoffs last season, a game that Herrington said could have been theirs, much like this one.
“They came out to play and we didn’t,” Herrington said. “Our guys must have thought it was gonna be easy for some reason. I don’t know why. But, yeah, very disappointing.
“That’s two years in a row now we’ve gone out in the first round, with teams we thought we had a chance to beat.”