East Union’s 39-27 homecoming win over Kimball was bittersweet for various reasons on Friday.
It was certainly a boost to the team’s spirits after three consecutive losses while improving its chances to reach the postseason for a third year in a row.
“We needed that bad,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “Not the prettiest game, but at the end I’m glad we came out with the ‘W.’”
First with the sweet.
Eric Morales was stellar in his second straight start behind center for the Lancers (1-1 Valley Oak League, 2-4 overall). He lost the starting spot after the Lancers’ zero-week loss at Downey but looks to have it secured after throwing for 186 yards, four touchdowns and an interception on 12 of 21 passing. Morales also scampered for 44 yards on 10 attempts despite starting out with minus 16 yards on two sacks.
“When I got the spot back I knew there was pressure for me to show out,” Morales said. “I had to step up and do what I had to do. I just did what I’ve been doing for a long time.”
Three of those touchdown tosses went to Lorenzo Contreras, who finished with five catches and 102 yards. The 6-foot wide out dropped a pass inside the Kimball 5 on East Union’s second drive of the game, but he made up for it two plays later with a 33-yard touchdown reception. Contreras was lights out from there, capping his best effort of the season with a hard-earned 26-yard TD catch in the third quarter while held by cornerback Santino Lozano.
“My confidence was still high,” Contreras said. “I knew I had to make up for past games because I was dropping a lot of balls and I knew I was going to get more opportunities.”
Andrew Mount (eight rushes, 31 yards) added two touchdowns, and Alex Alexander paced six East Union rushers with 56 yards on 10 carries. East Union totaled 178 yards on the ground and totaled 364 against 279 for the Jaguars (0-2, 2-4).
As for the bitter, the Lancers began with a listless effort and found themselves down 13-0 with 4:30 left in the opening quarter. Louie Pacheco (16 rushes, 77 yards) scored his first of three touchdowns from a yard out on Kimball’s 14-play opening drive.
The Jaguars were then gift-wrapped great field possession on their next series after East Union’s punt went awry because of a low snap that resulted in a 13-yard loss. Mateo Decoite (15 of 22, 149 yards; 18 rushes, 53 yards) hit a wide-open Kaleo Ballungay for a 33-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the next play.
East Union’s defense helped provide a needed spark, twice getting fourth-down sacks — the first from Marquise Higgins in the closing minutes of the second quarter, and the next by Josh Grabowski in the third — inside the Kimball 30. These were two key plays that helped the Lancers reel off 19 unanswered points for a 33-21 lead.
“That was the game,” Herrera said of the fourth-down sacks. “If that didn’t happen it may be a different outcome.”
Higgins, a 6-3, 225-pound outside linebacker getting Division I looks, finished with three sacks. Defensive tackle Anthony Anaya and middle linebacker Warren McGovern added one each.
Herrera attributed East Union’s slow start to “an emotional week.” The Lancers recently found out that two-way contributor Tealen Gaines (seven rushes, 41 yards; three receptions, 18 yards) will be moving to Las Vegas, and Friday’s contest is his last with the team.
“We’re going to miss him,” Herrera said. “He’s been a huge part of our program for the last four years and some hearts are broken.”
It’s a big loss for a team that was already without one of its best players from 2017, as reigning VOL Utility Player of the Year Levi Huffman moved to Wyoming over the summer.
And the hits kept coming Friday, as playmaking wingback Raylen Carter was carted off the field with a knee injury midway through the second quarter. The Lancers’ leading rusher for the season finished with 19 yards on five carries along with a diving 12-yard touchdown grab.
East Union was already minus running back Leo Bonilla, who is expected to miss next week’s game at Central Catholic with a knee injury of his own.
“I feel like once we get our chemistry going something happens,” Herrera said. “Hopefully Ray is OK. We have to get through next week and we’re going into our bye week. It will allow us to get back emotionally and physically.”
Kimball 13 8 0 6 — 27
E. Union 7 14 12 6 — 39
K—Louie Pacheco 1 run (Jonathan Cordero kick), 7:05.
K—Kaleo Ballungay 33 pass from Mateo Decoite (kick missed), 4:30.
E—Lorenzo Contreras 33 pass from Eric Morales (Jorge Ramirez kick), 2:40.
E—Raylen Carter 12 pass from Eric Morales (Ramirez kick), 8:59.
K—Pacheco 14 run (Pacheco run), 7:45.
E—Contreras 26 pass from Morales (Ramirez kick), 1:34.
E—Contreras 26 pass from Morales (kick blocked), 6:59.
E—Andrew Mount 1 run (run failed), 4:55.
K—Pacheco 37 run (kick missed), 8:30.
E—Mount 3 run (kick missed), 4:51.