Cardinals hand MMA first loss of season behind rushing success

LA VILLA – The La Villa Cardinals were outsized when they played host to the Marine Military Academy Leathernecks on Thursday, but they certainly weren’t outplayed.

La Villa (4-2) played hard-hitting, explosive football to pick up a 40-7 victory in its final non-district tuneup and hand MMA (4-1) its first loss of the season.

“I was kind of nervous at the beginning, but we came out and played today,” La Villa coach Daniel Perez said. “We’re capable of playing that way, but we hadn’t done it. That’s one of the things I’ve been telling them, we haven’t played a complete game. Today was a complete game.”

The Cardinals dominated from the first whistle on offense and defense. Senior running back/defensive back AJ Contreras busted up the gut for big rushing gains to get the Cardinals into the red zone on their first possession. Junior quarterback Juan “JC” Ortiz scored on a 9-yard rushing touchdown with a nice move to change directions and hit the lane the offensive line created.

The Leathernecks responded with a strong kickoff return by junior quarterback Nathan Harvey to start their first drive in La Villa territory. But the Cardinals’ defense was stifling and didn’t let MMA run anywhere, quickly forcing a three-and-out.

La Villa took its second drive 90 yards for the score. This time it was senior running back/DB Christian Ortiz who did the damage in the run game. He picked up three first downs with his legs and capped the drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. JC Ortiz connected with senior receiver Keanu Escobar for big gains to move the chains during both first-quarter possessions.

After another punt by the Leathernecks, the Cardinals’ offense was slowed down by a lengthy discussion over lightning on the horizon at the end of the opening quarter. The teams swapped punts, then La Villa regained its momentum.

Despite two penalties against the Cardinals, they extended their lead to 19-0 midway through the second quarter. JC Ortiz hit senior receiver Jacob Espericueta for a 31-yard gain, and then he found Escobar with a touchdown pass. But the score was called off due to a penalty for taunting.

By Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star

The ball was placed on the Leathernecks’ 17 yard line, and after a sack by MMA junior linebacker John Shields, Christian Ortiz took a carry 19 yards for a touchdown. La Villa missed a PAT and failed to convert the 2-point attempt after the first two touchdowns, but junior lineman/kicker Jaime Elissetche made the PAT after the third.

MMA reached the red zone for the first time late in the second quarter. Senior running back Malik Rivers and Harvey had good runs to get to the 11. Christian Ortiz and junior D-lineman Joey Escobar led La Villa’s defense to force a turnover on downs to sustain the shutout at halftime.

The second half was defined by turnovers and the relentless run game of La Villa. Contreras followed the Cardinals’ offensive line comprised of Elissetche, Rene Reyna, Joe Rodriguez, Esteban Torres and Everardo Reyes to break off big runs and score two rushing touchdowns.

“Our offensive line didn’t do too good last week. But today, you could tell they were blocking their man and you could see the running backs just go through the lanes. Nobody was there,” Perez said. “Our coaches do a great job with those guys, and they’re doing a tremendous job.”

Contreras, Christian Ortiz and Brandon Felix were a few Cardinals who had plenty of success running all over the Leathernecks thanks to a stellar performance by the La Villa O-line that pushed around MMA. Keanu Escobar added a 7-yard rushing touchdown— La Villa’s sixth of the night— in the fourth.

MMA broke the shutout with 33 seconds remaining on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Benjamin Smith to Riley Porter. Smith, who replaced the injured Harvey, and Rivers had some good moments for MMA’s offense, but a slew of late turnovers prevented any comeback hopes.

By Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star

Felix, Espericueta and Christian Ortiz each snagged an interception for La Villa during the second half, and senior Jerry Reyes recovered a fumble. Several players, headlined by Christian Ortiz and Contreras, excelled playing both ways in the impressive Cardinals victory.

“(Ortiz and Contreras) played awesome,” Perez said. “AJ is really, really strong, and his speed, he’s just improved so much. (Ortiz’s) quickness, you can’t teach that. He’s a little bitty guy, but he’s not scared on offense or defense. He goes all out. His heart, he’s fearless out there.”

Junior D-lineman William Webb was strong defensively for MMA. The Leathernecks notched two turnovers late on a pair of fumble recoveries, but overall they struggled.

“Being undefeated, the kids thought they were a lot better than they were, and they came in real complacent thinking they were going to beat them with no problem,” MMA coach Jim Morton said. “Hopefully they learned a valuable lesson. They can’t ever take anybody for granted. As coaches, we got to do a better job. We’re going to move some kids around, and we’ll have them ready for next week.”

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