Palomar Advances Over Cerritos

Nate Ong threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, and the Palomar defense not only scored a pair of touchdowns but stopped Cerritos twice in the red zone in the game's final minutes as the Comets (9-2) upset host Cerritos (9-2), 31-17, in the National Bowl that also served as a Southern California playoff game Saturday evening in Norwalk.

Ong, starting in place of the injured Matt Christian, completed 16 of 31 passes for his 263 yards, and didn't throw an interception. His two touchdown passes in the second quarter, one to Saalim Hakim and one to Javon Reynolds, helped the Comets build a 21-10 lead. Samuel Spence returned a fumble for one touchdown and Tevan McCaskill returned an interception for another as the defense also scored a pair of touchdowns for Palomar in the win.

But this one came down to the final minutes of the game. Palomar held a 24-17 lead as Cerritos drove deep into Comet territory, reaching the 7 in the final four minutes of the game. But Jason Davis was thrown for a 3-yard loss on 3rd and goal from the 7, and Chris Morales' pass fell incomplete on 4th down, giving Palomar the ball on downs with 2:22 left.

Cerritos, however, got one last chance to at least tie the game moments later when Ong fumbled and David Flores recovered for the Falcons at the 16 with 1:26 remaining. But two plays later, Morales' final pass of the night was tipped and intercepted by McCaskill at the 3, and the safety from Miami Northwestern HS returned it 97 yards for the touchdown that finally clinched the win for the Comets.

Cerritos battled to the end, chipping away at an 11-point halftime deficit. Morales threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Lucas Mealy late in the third quarter to make it 21-17, capping a quick, 5-play drive that featured a 54-yard run by Davis to the Palomar 7. The Comets seemingly had Davis stopped for about a 15-yard gain, but Davis had been tackled onto the back of another player and never touched the turf. He alertly got back up and kept running before finally being corralled at the 7.

That was strikingly reminiscent of a play in the first half that saw Palomar score a touchdown to take a lead it would hold the rest of the game. With the score tied, 7-7, Cerritos had the ball and went back to pass. But Morales was hit from behind by Jamar Fleming, who knocked the ball loose. The ball bounced for several seconds as linemen on both teams tried to recover the fumble. Finally, the ball squirted out of the pile and into the hands of Spence, who somehow recovered the ball without touching the turf (at least that's how the officials saw things), and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

Cerritos took advantage of a fumble recovery by Chester Woolen to cut the margin to 14-10 on a field goal by Francisco Rodriguez with 3:32 left in the first half. But Palomar pushed its lead to 21-10 when Ong threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Reynolds with 21 seconds left in the second quarter. Mealy's touchdown catch brought Cerritos within four points at 21-17 in the third quarter. Palomar pushed the lead back to seven points at 24-17 after an interception by Anthony Young, his second of the game, who returned the ball to the Cerritos 26. Kevin Ditch's 30-yard field goal made it 24-17 with 10:56 left, and that's how the score stayed until the dramatic final sequence that culminated with McCaskill's interception return.

Early on, Cerritos drove into Palomar territory three times in the first quarter, but came away empty all three times, turning the ball over on downs twice and punting the ball away once after a couple of penalties pushed the Falcons back. Palomar also had a chance to take an early lead, driving to the Falcon 13 midway through the first quarter, but also came away empty when Ditch's 34-yard field goal attempt was ruled wide left.

Palomar scored the game's first touchdown when Ong threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Hakim early in the second quarter to cap a 7-play, 80-yard drive. But Cerritos answered back with a 3-play scoring drive after Eric Russell returned the ensuing kickoff to the Falcon 48. A 41-yard run by Dion Curry and a pass interference penalty helped Cerritos move down the field and tie the game. But just over three minutes later, Spence's touchdown gave Palomar a lead it would hold, barely, the rest of the way.

Of Ong's 16 completions, 5 went to Reynolds, who finished with a game-high 124 yards receiving. Tyresse Jones led the Comets with 50 yards rushing on 9 carries. And the standouts on defense included Young, who had a pair of interceptions, Spence, who had the fumble return as well as a quarterback sack, and Fleming, who caused the fumble. And of course, McCaskill made perhaps the play of the game with his interception and return for the final touchdown.

For Cerritos, Morales completed just 9 of 31 passes for 94 yards and a TD, and also threw 4 interceptions. The Falcon rushing attack was solid, with Davis and Demetrek Chambers each rushing for 96 yards and the Falcons totaling 270 yards on the night. Curry was particularly impressive, breaking off a 41-yard run on an end-around, catching two passes for 42 yards and also returning a punt 36 yards.

The win moves Palomar into the semifinal round, and the Comets will play #2 seed Fullerton next Saturday at 1 pm at Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton. Cerritos finishes the season 9-2.

Palomar Comets 31
Cerritos Falcons 17

Saturday, November 21, 2009 - 7 pm - Falcon Stadium - Norwalk
National Bowl / Southern California Playoffs (First Round)

1st Quarter:
No Scoring

2nd Quarter:
P - Hakim 36 yd pass from Ong (Ditch kick) 12:23 (7-0)
C - Chambers 1 yd run (Rodriguez kick) 11:11 (7-7)
P - Spence 31 yd fumble return (Ditch kick) 8:03 (14-7)
C - FG Rodriguez 30 yds 3:32 (14-10)
P - Reynolds 26 yd pass from Ong (Ditch kick) 0:21 (21-10)

3rd Quarter:
C - Mealy 7 yd pass from Morales (Rodriguez kick) 5:31 (21-17)

4th Quarter:
P - FG Ditch 30 yds 10:56 (24-17)
P - McCaskill 97 yd interception return (Ditch kick) 0:35 (31-17)

Team Statistics:
First Downs: Cerritos 19 (9 rush, 7 pass, 3 penalty), Palomar 12 (5 rush, 7 pass)
Rushes-Yds: Cerritos 48-270, Palomar 31-56
Passing Yds: Cerritos 94, Palomar 263
Comp-Att-Int: Cerritos 9-31-4, Palomar 16-31-0
Return Yds: Cerritos 85, Palomar 288
Sacks-Yds: Cerritos 2-14, Palomar 4-24
Fumbles-Lost: Cerritos 2-1, Palomar 2-2
Penalties-Yds: Cerritos 6-45, Palomar 17-159
Time of Possession: Cerritos 35:33, Palomar 24:27

Individual Statistics:
Cerritos 6-Chambers 18-96, 30-J.Davis 15-96, 15-Curry 2-44, 4-Craig 6-32, 82-Williams 1-7, 13-Morales 6-(-5); Palomar 28-Jones 9-50, 8-O.Davis 18-28, 10-Ong 4-(-22)
Passing: Cerritos 13-Morales 9-31-4-94, 1 TD; Palomar 10-Ong 16-31-0-263, 2 TDs
Receiving: Cerritos 9-Robbins 4-18, 15-Curry 2-42, 81-Mealy 2-26, 17-L.Johnson 1-8; Palomar 3-Reynolds 5-124, 7-Lee 3-59, 2-Hakim 2-41, 1-Moore 2-23, 8-O.Davis 2-9, 89-Upgrow 1-12, 16-Meyers 1-(-5)
Interceptions-Ret Yds: Cerritos none; Palomar 21-Young 2-28, 9-McCaskill 1-97, 27-Faddis 1-0
Sacks-Yds: Cerritos 95-Goggins 2-14; Palomar 31-Spence 1-7, 92-Fleming 1-6, 98-Valese 1-6, 71-Gonzalez 1-5
Fumble Rec-Ret Yds: Cerritos 43-Flores 1-0, 52-Woolen 1-0; Palomar 31-Spence 1-31
Punters: Cerritos 42-Cutler 4-38.0 avg; Palomar 40-Pourfallah 7-29.3 avg
Kick Returns: Cerritos 4-Russell 3-53, 15-Curry 1-17, 25-Arteaga 1-15; Palomar 8-O.Davis 2-74, 22-McGinnis 2-29
Punt Returns: Cerritos 15-Curry 1-36; Palomar 19-Cathman 1-29
Missed FG: Cerritos none; Palomar 41-Ditch 34 yds (wide left) 5:24 1st

Notes: Cerritos entered 9-1, #3 seed while Palomar entered 8-2, #6 seed. Ong started in place of injured Matt Christian for Palomar. Cerritos drove into Palomar territory 3 times in 1st qtr but came away empty each time. Fleming forced the fumble (on a sack) that Spence returned for the TD. Cerritos' FG came after Woolen's fumble recovery. Palomar's FG came after Young's 2nd interception. Cerritos drove to the Palomar 7 but turned the ball over on downs with 2:22 left; they got the ball back with 1:26 left when Flores recovered an Ong fumble at the Comet 16. But two plays later McCaskill intercepted Morales' final pass and returned it for the score to clinch the win. A fracas broke out following the last play of the game, which the coaches quickly separated. Palomar will now play at Fullerton next week in a SoCal semifinal.

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