Aragon’s 38-6 rout Friday night at Jefferson may have been a one-sided affair, but that didn’t stop Dons head coach Steve Sell from challenging his offense to execute a two-minute drill.
It seemed a crazy notion when Aragon, with a comfortable 18-0 lead, took possession at its own 31-yard line with 49 seconds remaining in the first half and resolved to push the ball up the field with the little time they had remaining.
Sell indeed proved crazy — crazy like a fox, that is — as the strategy paid off. Aragon used six plays to march 69 yards in 47 seconds, cashing in on a 27-yard scoring pass from Dylan Daniel to Alen Tanielu to send the Dons into halftime with a 25-0 lead.
“Dylan made just a great throw,” Sell said. “That was really a huge play for us. It gave us some breathing room.”
Everything went Aragon’s way though. This was true even before the opening kickoff. With senior running back Mone Hokafonu out of action, the Dons turned to junior Jared Walsh, who made his first start since Sept. 10 against Woodside.
“It was a great week to get him back,” Sell said. “He played a little bit last week, but we played him sparingly. But, oh my goodness, the way he ran, he made some critical runs for us at critical times.”
Walsh showed no signs of the injury that sidelined him for the better part of four weeks as the stout junior bulled for 115 yards on 16 carries and Aragon’s first three touchdowns of the night.
“I knew our main running back wasn’t going to be here today, so I knew I had to pick up for him,” Walsh said. “So, I just thought of myself, I had to step up my game and play better.”
While Aragon’s offense was running well-balanced schemes all night, the defense was playing takeaway to consistently set up good field position. Aragon outgained Jefferson 318-247, while the Grizzlies turned over the ball four times.
Aragon (2-1 PAL Ocean, 5-3 overall) struck by air on its first drive. Daniel opened the night with a 32-yard slant pass over the middle to Tanielu. Four plays later, Daniel hit Tanielu again for a 14-yard pickup to the Jefferson 11. Then the Dons pounded it in, with Walsh blasting through the middle rugby style for a 9-yard touchdown run to give Aragon a 6-0 lead.
The Dons took the ball right back on a three-and-out, and immediately pivoted to the ground attack. Junior receiver Lloyd Walter opened with an 11-yard run on a reverse play. Then sophomore Ivan Nisa — who carried 11 times for 95 yards — flew up the middle for a 27-yard run. Tanielu followed with a 13-yard pickup on a sweep play. Then Walsh hammered it up the middle for a 5-yard scoring run to up the lead to 12-0.
Aragon’s next possession stalled, but the defense once again made quick work to get the offense the ball back. Jefferson was facing third-and-19 from its own 29 when senior defensive tackle David Fononga mauled quarterback Tyler Taylor for a strip-sack, with Aragon’s Luke Quanbeck recovering at the Grizzlies’ 19.
“I honestly just wanted to get him on the ground,” Fononga said. “There were on third down, so it would have been fourth down. But the ball came out and we just grabbed it.”
Four plays later, Walsh bounced off tackle for a 10-yard score to give the Dons an 18-0 lead.
Aragon went on to intercept the ball three times. A pick late in the first half by junior linebacker Lukas Peschke set up the 47-second scoring drive. Aragon then stifled Jefferson’s first possession of the second half with an interception by junior safety Max Lacasse.
Then after Daniel scored on a 1-yard quarterback keep on the first play of the fourth quarter, Tanielu came up with a pick-6 with 8:18 to play, stepping in front of a Taylor pass along the sideline near midfield and returning it 48 yards for a score.
“[Tanielu] is such a fantastic football player,” Sell said. “He does everything for you. I think he’s going to drive the team bus home for us.”
Jefferson (1-3, 3-4) was plagued by yellow flags, incurring 102 yards in penalties. And it was an offensive pass interference call that cost the Grizzlies their most impressive play of the night in the closing minutes, when Taylor sizzled a beautiful ball into double coverage for senior receiver Dylan Camp to make an acute turn for a strong-handed nab and duck into the end zone for a 35-yard score.
Camp was flagged for offensive pass interference on a highly disputed call by the Jefferson sideline. But it sure was a fun play to watch, nonetheless.
“We connect like that a lot,” Camp said. “The coach and quarterback trust me to make plays like that, even in double coverage, single coverage. We both make plays. I love my quarterback, we’s together. I like that connection.”
Four plays later, Jefferson got into the end zone on the game’s final play when Taylor danced in for a 15-yard score. It was a showcase of talent that hasn’t matched up with the results this season for the Grizzlies.
“It’s a number of factors, it’s not just one,” Jefferson head coach Sergio Portela Jr. said. “Poor execution, injuries … a number of guys playing banged up.”
The Grizzlies totaled 98 rushing yards, with Taylor leading the way for 59 yards on 10 carries. Jefferson employed just two other runners out of the backfield in the game.
“It’s been kind of running back by committee,” Portela said. “We know our depth chart, but we really haven’t had any stability at that position.”