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By Eric Terrazas
PICO RIVERA – On a night it honored its senior players and remembered its legendary former coach, El Rancho High School turned in one of its best performances on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.
The host Dons, lifted by a dominating second-half showing, delivered a 45-13 Del Rio League victory over Santa Fe. After trailing 13-10 at halftime, El Rancho scored 35 unanswered points in the second half. Three of the Dons’ five second-half touchdowns were produced by the defense.
El Rancho, which improved to 6-3 overall and 4-0 in league play, will next play La Serna (7-2, 4-0) on Thursday, Nov. 7 at California High School. The winner of the 7 p.m. game will capture the Del Rio League crown.
Before the game, a ceremony honoring longtime El Rancho coaching great Ernie Johnson took place. Johnson, who died in September, posted a record of 108-31-5 while coaching the Dons from 1956 to 1968. Johnson’s widow, Vicki, was present at the ceremony.
The El Rancho defense helped fuel the second-half surge by recovering a Santa Fe fumble at the Chiefs’ 40-yard line. The Dons quickly took advantage as senior quarterback Ryan Araujo scored on a 15-yard run that gave El Rancho a 17-13 lead.
After forcing Santa Fe to punt, El Rancho took possession at its 9-yard line and put together an impressive 17-play, 91-yard drive that culminated with senior running back Aaron Escareno’s 3-yard scoring run.
The Dons’ defense, armed with a 24-13 advantage, would then put the game away by scoring the game’s last three touchdowns.
El Rancho senior defensive back Andy Alaniz started the onslaught when he intercepted Santa Fe quarterback Christian Lara’s pass and returned it 37 yards for a score.
Araujo followed by returning an interception 57 yards for a touchdown, giving the Dons a 38-13 lead with 11 minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Junior defensive back Robert Robledo closed the game’s scoring when he returned a Santa Fe fumble 60 yards for a score.
After the teams traded field goals, Robledo put the Dons ahead 10-3 when he scored on a 96-yard kickoff return during the first quarter.
The Chiefs then grabbed a 13-10 lead in the second quarter. After Lara’s 68-yard scoring pass to Andrew Takata, Alex Moreno made a 35-yard field goal with 1:32 remaining before halftime.
Santa Fe (5-4, 2-2) will look to rebound against California (4-5, 2-2) in the Friday, Nov. 8 regular season finale for both teams. Sole possession of third-place, along with an automatic CIF-Southern Section playoff berth, is at stake. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
In other Del Rio League action:
La Serna 56, Whittier 7
The Lancers maintained a share of first place by dominating the Cardinals (3-6, 0-4).
Senior quarterback Frankie Palmer helped lead the way for La Serna, completing 10 of 13 attempts for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Palmer also contributed with his legs, running for 112 yards and a score on nine carries.
La Serna will look to capture its second consecutive league crown Thursday against El Rancho.
Whittier closes its regular season against Pioneer (3-6, 0-4) on Friday, Nov. 8. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. at California High.
California 27, Pioneer 6
The Condors kept their playoff hopes alive by delivering a win Oct. 31 over Pioneer. California closes its regular season Friday against Santa Fe.
Cathedral 39, St. Paul 14
A disappointing season continued for St. Paul (1-8, 1-3), which dropped a Nov. 1 home game against the Phantoms (6-3, 1-3).
The Swordsmen will conclude their regular season Friday, Nov. 8 against first-place Serra (9-0, 4-0). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul.
Maranatha 34, Whittier Christian 24
Whittier Christian’s title hopes were dashed when it fell at first-place Maranatha (7-2, 3-0).
The Nov. 1 game closed league play for the Heralds (5-4, 2-2), who will finish the regular season Friday, Nov. 8 with a 7 p.m. nonleague game against Cerritos (2-7) at Whittier College.