November 26, 2011
Defense comes to the aid of Le Grand title win over Highlands

Here is on-site report of the Highlands game from Sean Lynch of our sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star.

The Le Grand High defense set the tone from the opening series.

Eventually, the offense caught up to rout Highlands 58-20 for the Bulldogs' second consecutive Division 5 championship.

It was all defense at the start. Antonio Garcia sacked Highlands quarterback Kurtis Stamm and forced a fumble that Julian Nava scooped up for the Bulldogs.

The vaunted Le Grand offense failed to take advantage of the short field, but it mattered little.

Mario Zavala intercepted Stamm on Highlands' next series and returned it 32 yards for the game's opening score.

The Bulldog defense was just getting started. Highlands turned the ball over on its first four possessions at the Grape Bowl on Saturday night and eight times in the game.

The Bulldogs will now wait to see if the first 12-0 season in school history is enough to earn them a CIF Division 4 State Bowl bid.

"The defense hasn't gotten a lot of credit this season, but we knew we had to come out and get after it," Zavala said. "I just saw a chance and went after it.

"I think the touchdown helped relieve some of the pressure early."

Despite the stellar play of its defense, the Le Grand offense struggled to match it.

Running back Daniel Guizar broke a big 46-yard run to set up a Dustin Slate 5-yard score and make it 14-0, but the big plays were rare in the first half.

With an all-out blitzing scheme, Highlands (10-3) stymied the LG offense and clawed its way back into the game.

Stamm hit Ray Edwards with a 39-yard TD pass and Aaron Abalos followed with a 3-yard TD run to tie the game at 14.

It looked like that would be the halftime score when Guizar permanently swung momentum back Le Grand's way. With four seconds left in the half Guizar bounced a run off the right tackle and then cut back across the field for a 65-yard touchdown.

"That was a pretty big momentum swing because we knew we were getting the ball to start the second half," said Guizar, who finished with a game-high 224 yards on 20 carries.

"Highlands played a good first half, so we knew we had to keep the pedal down."

The Le Grand defense made sure the Scots never got back in it, stripping the ball on Highlands' first two-plays from scrimmage in the third quarter.

"We felt good going into halftime, even with the late touchdown," Highlands head coach Matt Coakley said. "We just made too many mistakes in the third quarter. You can't do that against a good team like Le Grand."

The Bulldog offense responded with four quick scores to break the game open.

Daniel Rosas nailed a 27-yard field goal, followed by a Guizar 5-yard score. Alex Bucio heated up after that with TD passes to Zach Moreno and Juan Gomez to make it a 43-14 game.

Abalos added a 14-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, but Le Grand finished things off with a Aaron Salcido 85-yard pick six and a Ryan Martinez 51-yard run.

"You look at it all season and the defense has been called the liability," Le Grand head coach Rick Martinez said. "But they really carried the load for us tonight while the offense figured it out.

"(Offensive coordinator) Raul Alvarez made some good adjustments in the second half, and we did a good job finishing them off.

"With Central Catholic losing, I think this team has done everything it needed to do to earn a shot at a state bowl game."

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