CHS football comes out flat, unable to catch Ayala

Every good thing comes to an end, and for the Claremont High School football team it came last Friday night with a 24-21 defeat by visiting Ayala. The loss, which coincided with the Pack’s homecoming game, ended a remarkable six-game winning streak that also saw their state and national rank shoot through the roof.

For the first three quarters, Claremont seemed to lack the drive that has been a hallmark this season. The Bulldogs effectively shut down the Pack’s running game until the fourth quarter, limiting star running back, junior Duy Tran-Sampson to 129 yards. Meanwhile, Claremont could not stop Ayala standout rusher senior Jordan Charles, who had 259 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns.

Ayala’s game was a one-trick pony, but an effective one. Anytime the Bulldogs needed a first down, they gave Charles the ball and let him go. He alone ran for two-thirds of the team’s total yards and, with sophomore Max Hura, Ayala rushed for 383 yards total.

Ayala’s entire passing game consisted of one six-yard play from quarterback Michael Morales to Hura.

The Pack’s offense was much more diverse with quarterback senior Raine Pohaku Kaheaku-Paiva’s seven passes for 122 yards and 53 yards of rushing, while Tran-Sampson, senior Cameron Gray and senior Markelle Davis combined for the rest of the Pack’s 263 rushing yards. Sophomore Benjamin Lynch caught two passes for 61 yards, including the game’s longest at 38 yards. Gray, Davis, senior Matt Banfield and senior Ernest Smith racked up the remaining receiving yards. It should have been Davis’ night to remember, having been named the homecoming king during a daytime rally. He also scored all three of Claremont’s touchdowns. But a few missteps was all Ayala needed to take the win away.

Claremont won the coin toss and chose to receive, but were stopped rather quickly by Ayala, who took over on their own 40-yard line. Next, in what would be a harbinger for the rest of the game, Hura ran for 45 yards to set up an eventual Bulldog field goal.

On their next possession, Claremont was looking for touchdown when Ayala senior Matthew Scott intercepted Kaheaku-Paiva’s pass for a touchback. On the next set of downs Charles ran 55 yards, breaking two tackles on his way to the Pack’s 35-yard line. A couple of plays later, he went 40 yards straight up the middle for a Bulldog touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

It looked like a blowout in the making when Charles scored again in the second quarter, giving the Bulldogs a 17-0 advantage, but Claremont came scratching back.

With time running out on the half, Claremont put together their first big set of downs. Facing 3rd down and 17, Kaheaku-Paiva attempted to find Banfield who dropped the ball but drew a pass interference call and a much better field position for an eventual first down. The Pack slowly wrestled the yards out of Ayala, only to face fourth down after an incomplete pass to Lynch. Looking more like the Claremont of previous outings, Kaheaku-Paiva completed a last-ditch pass to Lynch, keeping the drive alive. With under a minute on the clock, Davis powered into the end zone and Claremont was on the scoreboard at last.

Ayala opened the second half by marching the ball all the way to the Pack’s one-yard line and a fourth down. In what may be the most controversial call of the game, Ayala attempted to muscle the ball over the goal line but the Pack appeared to have stopped them short. However, even though forward momentum ceased, officials failed to halt the play and, after a few seconds of suspended animation, Ayala managed to fall into the end zone for a touchdown.

From there on out it was all Claremont, but it was too little too late.

With 1:30 left in the third quarter, Davis ran 62 yards for the Pack’s second touchdown and one could sense that the momentum had shifted.

Then, just as the fourth quarter began, Tran-Sampson ran 50 yards, putting Claremont within striking distance of another touchdown. Unfortunately, the play was called back as Davis was charged with a personal foul and Claremont was forced to punt.

It looked bleak for Claremont when they got one last chance after recovering a fumble deep in their own territory. A 35-yard run play by Kaheaku-Paiva and a long pass to Davis put the Pack on the Bulldog’s 20-yard line. On 4th and 10, Kaheaku-Paiva got a miracle first down, setting up Davis’ third and final touchdown a few plays later.

Claremont failed to recover an onside kick so, with 1:41 remaining, the Pack was only three points behind but Ayala had the ball. The Bulldogs proceeded to run the clock down to seven seconds while Claremont used up all of their time-outs hoping for a miracle. It was not to be, as the Pack did regain control of the ball but had no time left.

After the game, Claremont’s coach Coco Jarin was at a loss to explain his team’s performance. “I don’t know what it was, we just caught a bug,” he said. “It’s not easy to go undefeated. Now we have that one [loss], all we have to do is gather ourselves, come back and find that [winning] team again and make it happen.”

With the loss, Claremont slipped to fourth place in the Palomares League with a 1-1 record but are still 6-1 overall. Next up is an away game against Diamond Bar on Friday.

—Steven Felschundneff


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