Less than 30 seconds into the first home of the year for the Anzar football team, things continued to remain the same, as Stuart Hall took an early lead that it would never give up.
It was status quo for the Hawks at home. In the program’s fifth home game, Anzar remained winless Friday, falling 54-22 in a game that was much closer than the final score.
Despite gaining more yards than the Knights – 299-298 – Anzar continued to stop themselves, turning the ball over six times. The loss gives Anzar a 0-3 record so far this year.
“They were huge turnovers,” head coach Luis Espinoza said. “When you can’t hang on to the football, it’s tough. On the positive side, we never gave up.”
Even with issues hanging onto the football, Anzar stayed close to Stuart Hall in game’s first three quarters. The Hawks relied on the running attack led by quarterback Jeremy Cedeno and first-year senior running back Gabriel Hatcher.
The duo helped lead Anzar to 207 yards on the ground.
“It was great to see that,” Espinoza said. “I finally got Hatcher to run the football. He had a huge game. They never adjusted to us running inside so we kept giving him the football.”
Hatcher rumbled for 75 yards on 17 carries, including his first ever rushing touchdown.
“It was good,” he said. “It feels kind of weird to get a passing touchdown. Rushing is more what I like.”
Cedeno, though, led the team with 117 yards on the ground thanks to an opening-quarter 61-yard run for a game-tying touchdown. That touchdown opened the Anzar rushing attack with a loud burst.
After Stuart Hall’s Trayvon Hicks opened the scoring with a seven-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the Anzar offense quickly grabbed the momentum. On second down from the Anzar 19-yard line, Cedeno took a quarterback sweep around the right side of the line. Making a pair of cuts up the middle and back to the right sideline, Cedeno ran 61-yards untouched, igniting the large San Juan crowd.
The excitement was short lived, though, as Stuart Hall’s Ethan Hankins responded on the kickoff with a 70-yard return for a touchdown. That was the story all day for the Hawks. When something good happened for Anzar, a bad play quickly negated the positives.
Stuart Hall turned the six Anzar turnovers into 28 points, including two interception returns for touchdowns from Hankins.
“A lot of points came off turnovers,” Espinoza said. “My boys are angry. They know where they are at. They know they could have beaten that team. We have to go back to fundamentals and go back to tackling.”
Tackling became an issue for the Hawks once Hicks started running the ball. After taking only five first-half carries – scoring two touchdowns – Hicks took over the game in the second half, rumbling for 241 yards on 22 carries. He scored six touchdowns on the ground for Stuart Hall.
“He just knew how to wait,” Espinoza said. “He waited for his blocks and knew how to run the ball.”
Anzar’s Joseph Banuelos was one of the few Hawks that could slow down the Stuart Hall rushing attack. Banuelos finished with two sacks and a safety for Anzar. The Hawks, though, never found a good way to stop the quarterback draw from Hicks.
“He was really agile,” Banuelos said. “You have to break down and focus on his hips. You have to get agile and not look at the ball. It was hard. Moving forward, we just have to continue to get better.”
The Hawks best chance came in the game’s third quarter. After Stuart Hall extended its lead to 34-14, Anzar started to show some offensive spark. On a methodical 11-play 53-yard drive, Hatcher scored to pull Anzar within two scores.
On the next series, Banuelos forced a fumble inside the Stuart Hall 30-yard line. The Hawks’ sideline erupted, as momentum finally seemed in Anzar’s favor. On a fourth-down play, Cedeno connected with Victor Flores down the left sideline. Flores, who was wide open, turned up field but two yards shy of a touchdown, Stuart Hall stripped the ball.
Four plays later, Stuart Hall scored again to squash any Anzar momentum.
“That was huge, man,” Espinoza said. “We drive down and we coughed it up on the one-yard line. He made a great play to get down there. It’s tough to come back from there.”
Anzar would never score again, as Stuart Hall relied on Hicks to extend its lead.
The Hawks will get another opportunity to earn its first home win at 6 p.m. Friday, when they host Trinity Christian. Anzar opened last year with a 42-0 loss to the Warriors.