Garden Grove's Ruben Mendoza sprints during a CIF-SS Division 8 football playoff game against Laguna Hills at Garden Grove on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Defense helps lift Garden Grove to win


GARDEN GROVE – Garden Grove leaned again on its playoff experience Thursday but the Argonauts didn’t stop there in a close game against visiting Laguna Hills.

“We have a word of the week every week and the word of the week this week was desire and they had the desire,” Garden Grove coach Ricardo Cepeda said after a 34-24 victory in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 8 playoffs.

“You got to have that belief right here, in your heart, that you can win those tight games.”

Garden Grove (9-2) won its fifth consecutive first-round playoff game, despite a move up in division, by forcing four turnovers, including interceptions by Mario Moemoe, Fitu Lupematasila and Mike Carillo in a duel with Laguna Hills (6-5) and standout receiver Logan Montgomery (10 catches, 159 yards).

Carillo, a sophomore, made a leaping interception in the end zone with 52 seconds left on a pass intended for Branson Weems to seal the victory.

An interception and 53-yard return by Lupematasila late in the third helped set up a 32-yard field goal by Elian Arreola, who gave the Garden Grove a 34-17 lead early in the fourth.

The Argonauts, who play the Yorba Linda-Kaiser winner in the second round, also rushed the ball well, especially in the second half.

Anthony Herrera (119 yards rushing), Dominik Sanchez (99 yards), quarterback Ruben Mendoza (81 yards) led an offense that didn’t throw a pass in the second half.

Laguna Hills’ Zac Crowe rushed for 165 yards.

Garden Grove led, 24-17, at halftime thanks in part two plays by Moemoe.

With the Argonauts leading, 14-7, late in the first quarter, the senior chased a punt that landed behind him, picked up the ball at his 4 and returned it 68 yards to Laguna Hills’ 28.

Garden Grove capitalized on the field possession early in the second quarter with a 29-yard field goal by Arreola, who extended the lead to 17-7.

Later, Moemoe intercepted a deflected pass at his 49 with 7:45 left in the second quarter. Garden Grove drove for a 9-yard TD run by Mendoza with 4:32 left in the half, opening a 24-7 lead.

Mendoza also sparked the drive with an 18-yard run on fourth-and-6, hurdling a tackler to reach the Hawks 11.

Garden Grove’s points off the turnover loomed at halftime. The Hawks finished the second quarter with a flurry. Montgomery hauled in a 45-yard TD reception for his second score from Ross Leigber and Harrison Avila kicked a 37-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining. But the Hawks didn’t score after an interception by Weems on Garden Grove’s second possession.

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