Eagles make quick early lead stand
- Updated: November 10, 2018
2018 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL
GRANITE HILLS 27, RAMONA 14
By Jim Lindgren
Special to EastCountySports.com
EL CAJON – Granite Hills isn’t the No. 1-seeded team in the San Diego Section Division II playoffs because of a quick-strike offense.
But after seven plays and seven minutes on Friday night, the Eagles had two monumental plays, 155 total yards and a 13-point lead that proved to be the difference in a 27-14 victory over No. 8 Ramona in their quarterfinal contest at Valley Stadium.
“That was a really big confidence boost for us,” senior quarterback Cris Ostreng said. “To be up 13-0 so early in the game, that was a great feeling.”
With the win, Granite Hills (10-1) advanced to next Friday’s semifinals for the second straight year in search of two more wins and its first CIF football title since the school opened in 1960. The Eagles will play host to No. 5 Lincoln (8-4), a 35-21 winner over No. 4 Point Loma.
Ostreng was simply marvelous all night, rushing for 164 yards and a touchdown and throwing for 210 yards and two scores to lead the Eagles.
Two of his brightest highlights came early.
On the Eagles’ third play from scrimmage, Ostreng faked a jet-sweep handoff to the left and then darted through a huge opening on the right side for a 70-yard pickup that set up a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle by fullback Anthony Neely. It was not only Neely’s first TD of the season, it was also his first carry.
After the defense forced a three-and-out punt, the Eagles started their second possession at the 50-yard line.
Next play, Ostreng again faked a handoff, then pulled up in the pocket and fired a strike to a wide-open James Johnson, who split the seam between safeties and raced untouched for a 50-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead with 5:07 left in the first quarter.
“Those big plays in the beginning cost us,” Ramona coach Damon Baldwin said. “We got down 13 points and couldn’t climb out of that hole. We just did not make plays when we needed to, and they did.”
Granite Hills is the No. 1 seed in the playoffs because Ostreng guides a balanced and steady offense that came in averaging 31.1 points per game and an unheralded but very effective defense that was allowing 16.7 points per game.
The Eagles finished with 430 total yards and allowed only 262 – 69 of which came on two long TD passes.
“Defense played lights out,” Eagles coach Kellan Cobbs said. “They made two mistakes on those touchdowns passes, but overall they played really well.
“They played tight, real Granite Hills defense for us.”
Ramona came in averaging 28.2 points per game, and bruising tailback Sean McDonald had 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns in just seven games.
Granite Hills held McDonald to a season-low 61 rushing yards on 18 carries. His biggest gain was 11 yards.
“We played great,” Ostreng said. “Defense held them to only 14 points. That’s our main thing right now. Our defense is great.”
Ramona’s first four possessions totaled only 26 yards on 16 plays with four straight punts. Keys to the stops were a sack by Juwan Dennis for an 8-yard loss and a tackle of McDonald by Zoseph Cuero for a 6-yard loss.
The Bulldogs didn’t complete a pass until the second quarter. Senior quarterback Derek Diamond, who came in with 1,111 passing yards, hit his favorite target, Cameron Necochea, for gains of 13 and 12 yards before Diamond found a wide-open Ace Jones in the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown that trimmed Granite’s lead to 13-7.
On the Eagles’ next play, Ostreng was intercepted by Ricky Colvin, who returned the pick about 25 yards before fumbling. The Eagles’ Jacob Nunez recovered it at the 12-yard line.
Nineteen plays later – yes, 19 – Granite Hills capped an 88-yard drive with Ostreng scoring on a 4-yard scramble run after deciding not to throw from the pocket on a third-and-goal pass call.
“Cris stepped up and made some really good decisions not to throw,” Cobbs said. “He was able to deal with some adversity on those plays and turn them into yardage with his legs. He did a great job.”
Ostreng ran eight times for 41 yards on that epic drive. He also completed a 10-yard pass to Juni Harris, a 9-yard pass to Johnson, an 8-yard pass to Christopher Gonzalez and a 12-yard pass to Johnson.
Including the interception and ensuing fumble, the Eagles took 20 consecutive snaps and wound 8:05 off the clock, scoring with 0:16 to play before intermission for a 20-7 lead.
The Eagles’ first drive covered 94 yards but took only six plays. Gonzalez rushed for 9 yards on the first play and Ostreng 8 on the second snap. After a 15-yard deadball personal foul penalty against the Eagles, Ostreng reeled off a 10-yard gain before hitting Johnson on a 14-yard pass that set up Neely’s touchdown.
Neely was in the backfield because the Eagles’ top two running backs – Keyvon Martin (hip) and Gideon Alaba (internal bleeding in his colon) – were unavailable.
Granite Hills had 291 total yards by halftime.
“We thought we had a good game plan,” Cobbs said. “We did a real nice job in the first half.”
The Eagles received the kickoff to open the second half and promptly drove 73 yards in five plays to go up 27-7 on a 32-yard scoring pass from Ostreng to Dylan Rutter, who hauled in the lofted pass at the 9-yard line and then danced around a couple defenders for the score.
Three plays earlier, Ostreng connected with Johnson on a 40-yard pass. So by 1:28 into the third quarter, Granite Hills had 364 total yards.
The defense gave up a 32-yard touchdown pass from Diamond to Jones at 5:06 of the third quarter, but that was all the Bulldogs would get, failing to score on its final four possessions.
Noah Medeiros had a big tackle for a 4-yard loss, Cuero posted a 3-yard loss on a sack, and Jeremiah Satberry put a big hit on Necochea as he attempted to deliver a pass on a trick play by the Bulldogs.
The Eagles’ Ethen Bishop had another big night on defense as he gains votes for a possible All-CIF selection at season’s end.
Ostreng deserves some attention too in the postseason balloting.
“It’s all on their quarterback,” Baldwin said before the game. “He’s got some moxie to him. He’s a good thrower and a good runner. He makes plays.”
And after the game?
“He did a great job,” Baldwin said. “He got a lot of yards obviously. He’s just a great player. We couldn’t find a way to stop him.”
Ostreng rushed 18 times for his 164 yards. He now has 798 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Ostreng also completed 13-of-25 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns and now has 1,634 yards and 13 TDs.
Seven receivers caught balls for the Eagles. Johnson led the way with seven for 130 yards and a touchdown.
“We played well enough to win, but I think we could have done it better,” Johnson said. “We had a few mistakes, but overall we played a good game.”
Ostreng was intercepted a second time by Necochea on a fourth-down tipped ball in the fourth quarter, and Ostreng fumbled once late in the game. But he was never sacked and put up 274 total yards.
The offensive line consists of Damian Hidalgo, Gary Gassaway, Dimitri Fuentez, Mason Tileia, Daniel Russell, Nunez and Cuero, and they were excellent at both run and pass blocking.
Geographically, Granite Hills is one of the closer schools to Ramona, but these teams had never played each other before Friday.
Both were defeated by Steele Canyon in the Division II playoffs last year. The eventual state champion Cougars edged Granite Hills, 28-27, in the semifinals and then snuck by Ramona, 33-29, in the section title game at Southwestern College.
Ramona hasn’t won a CIF title since taking Class 1A banners in 1973 and 1970.
Granite Hills has never won a CIF championship, but Ostreng believes this team has what it takes.
“Nobody’s been expecting us to be as good as we are this year,” Ostreng said. “Tonight, we showed we’re not here to get pushed over. We’re here to win.
Both Cobbs and Ostreng weren’t quite as certain in early August.
“Preseason, nobody expected us to do this … not even the team,” Ostreng said. “Now, we want it all. We’re going for the ring. First one in Granite Hills history.”
Granite Hills began the season with eight straight wins over Poway, Mt. Carmel, Westview, Hilltop, El Centro Southwest, Steele Canyon, Grossmont and El Capitan. The Eagles were tied 14-14 with Helix at halftime in their ninth game before Helix erupted for a 56-21 win.
Now, they get Lincoln, a scary team when healthy but also one that had to forfeit a game against Cathedral Catholic because injuries left a depleted roster.
“I think we match up well with Lincoln,” Cobbs said. “We’ve played a lot of teams with great athletes, so it’s nothing unfamiliar to our guys. We’ll just have to put together a good game plan.”
Division II – Quarterfinals
GRANITE HILLS 27, RAMONA 14
Ramona 0 7 7 0 – 14 Granite Hills 13 7 7 0 – 27
GH – Anthony Neely 4 run (Justin McElligott kick)
GH – James Johnson 50 pass from Cris Ostreng (kick failed)
R – Ace Jones 37 pass from Derek Diamond (Derek Diamond kick)
GH – Cris Ostreng 4 run (Justin McElligott kick)
GH – Dylan Rutter 32 pass from Cris Ostreng (Justin McElligott kick)
R – Ace Jones 32 pass from Derek Diamond (Derek Diamond kick)