By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
Like the Battle of Waterloo, the clash between Garden Grove and Santiago in the Garden Grove League opener Thursday was a “near run thing.”
But unlike the 19th century battle that undid Napoleon, the game at Garden Grove Stadium did not end a dynasty, it prolonged one. The Argonauts’ 26-21 win makes it likely that Grove will go on to win its third straight GGL crown.
“Yes, Santiago-Grove, this was the big one,” said Argonaut head coach Willy Puga after the tense win. The defending champs led most of the game and never trailed, but the contest may well have come down to a fourth and three from the Argo 11 with 5:14 to play.
“I told them to contain the quarterback and not to jump offsides,” said Puga of his instructions to the team before the pivotal play.
Ricky Espinosa, who had bedeviled the Argonauts all night with his scrambling, raced around in the backfield looking for a receiver, then finally threw into the end zone, where defenders batted it away.
After a missed field goal cost them a chance to strike first, the Argos posted. 7-0 lead with 46 seconds left in the first quarter. Quarterback Jovani Duran scored on a 1-yard sneak. Grove capitalized on a fumbled punt and a 24-yard run by Josh Webb off a double-reverse to set up the score.
The Cavaliers knotted the score at 7 early in the second quarter when Mario Quinones caught a pass from Espinosa on a crossing pattern over the middle and turned that into a 54-yard romp.
Two minutes later Grove regained the lead. Duran heaved a 40-yard pass to Webb at the goal line, who leaped to make the catch and put GGHS ahead 14-7.
On its next possession, Santiago drove 74 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 1-yard plunge by Salvatore Ceja with 4:19 left in the second quarter, sending the game into halftime tied 14-14.
The third quarter belonged to the Argos. Avery Williams caught a 65-yard TD pass from Duran, but the extra point missed. That would be a factor later on. Grove went up 26-14 on a 2-yard run by Webb culminating a 10-play, 55-yard drive. The two-point try went awry.
The Cavaliers fought back with an eight-play drive that covered 75 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Espinosa scrambled for a five-yard score. The extra point kick pulled the Cavs within five.
After an exchange of punts, Santiago started a drive on its own 40. The Cavs moved down to the 11 with 5:14 to play, but were denied on their fourth down play. After that, the Argos kept the ball on the ground and ran out the clock with a 12-play drive.
The Argonauts are now 5-1 overall. Duran finished with 141 yards passing. He threw for two scores and ran for another. Webb had 147 yards rushing, 64 receiving and another 38 passing.
SHS is 3-3 overall. The Cavs were led by Espinosa with 99 yards passing and 62 rushing.
“Santiago is a very good team,” said Puga. “They had a great game plan and they executed it well.” Well enough to push the CIF Southern Division’s top-ranked team to the edge, but not beyond.