Laguna Blanca bursts into second round

Philip Fauntleroy - Laguna Blanca

Four Lucerne Valley defenders chase Laguna Blanca’s Philip Fauntleroy on his way to the end zone. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports Photos)

Pierce O’Donnell accounted for four touchdowns and Laguna Blanca held off a second-half rally by Lucerne Valley on Saturday to advance through the first round of the CIF Division-1 8-Man football playoffs with a 29-18 home victory.

The Owls gained a 21-0 first-half lead on the legs of three rushing touchdowns by O’Donnell. Lucerne Valley didn’t go away, instead scoring three straight touchdowns themselves to create a tense fourth quarter, with the Owls clinging to a 21-18 lead.

“It definitely got closer than we had hoped,” said Laguna Blanca head coach Shane Lopes.

Lucerne Valley kept pressing, forcing a three-and-out on the Owls’ next possession. After a punt, the Mustangs’ big running back Zackary Mejia picked up 10 yards and a first down. The momentum was finally interrupted two plays later when Isaac Baron sacked Mustangs QB Kendrick York. It led to a turnover on downs for Lucerne Valley.

Laguna Blanca sophomore Anton Homeniuk finishes off a big gain carrying two tacklers.

Laguna Blanca sophomore Anton Homeniuk finishes off a big gain carrying two tacklers.

The Laguna Blanca offense immediately reignited after two scoreless second-half possessions. On the first snap, O’Donnell connected with Philip Fauntleroy on a slant. Fauntleroy had his defender beat and the perfectly placed throw allowed him to never break stride while racing 40 yards for the touchdown.

“That was big,” O’Donnell said. “That’s something that Philip and I have been working on mornings, afternoons, nights, before and after practice, so it’s good to see it pay off in such a big way.”

The Owls converted a two-point conversion, something the Mustangs couldn’t do on their three touchdowns, to take a 29-18 lead with 10 minutes to go.

Lucerne Valley kept coming, marching inside Laguna’s red zone on the next drive. But the chance at a comeback took a major hit when two straight holding penalties backed them up and the Mustangs came away with no points.

“We just had to dig deep and play Owls football. We had a lot of guys in different spots and we just had to step up and play our game,” said O’Donnell.

The senior, who has been thrust into the quarterback position because of an injury to starter Chandler Aubery, started under center for the second straight week. O’Donnell was a dual threat, completing 14-of-24 passes for 201 yards through the air and rushing for another 114 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns.

O’Donnell showed he was ready to play on the game’s opening drive. After converting two fourth downs to maintain possession, O’Donnell scampered towards one sideline, broke one tackle, avoided another, and got free to race all the way to the other sideline where he scored at the far pylon. The 46-yard touchdown run was the longest play of the day.

Lopes said another week of practice has helped the offense operate better after several injuries to key skill position players late in the season.

“It was just a matter of time and reps and it showed,” said Lopes.

Laguna Blanca (7-2) is expecting a steep hill to climb next week at Avalon. The Owls have to travel to Catalina Island to play an undefeated team, ranked No. 3 in the division.

“Our defense has to do a better job next week because Avalon is tough,” Lopes said.