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La Habra lives up to billing, tops El Toro
MISSION VIEJO – La Habra backed up its preseason accolades with an impressive performance Friday night.
And the No. 5 Highlanders weren't even at full strength.
First-year starting quarterback Eric Barriere threw three touchdowns and the Highlanders intercepted three passes en route to a 26-3 victory against No. 13 El Toro in season-opener at Trabuco Hills.
Wide receiver Christian Casas caught two of the touchdowns from Barriere, a sophomore. La Habra linebacker Jackson Willard, safety Noah Massman and cornerback Devon Drake collected interceptions for the Highlanders, also ranked second to Edison in the Southwest Division.
La Habra handled El Toro despite playing without offensive lineman and USC commit Toa Lobendahn. The senior's transfer from Lakewood has not yet been approved, Coach Frank Mazzotta said.
But as El Toro coach Robert Frith warned before the game, La Habra has plenty of other playmakers.
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“I'm just proud of them for just battling,” Mazzotta said of his team. “We've got a lot of experience. The kids overcame all this heat, the long travel down here. … El Toro is good.”
La Habra's experience showed on defense as it slowed El Toro quarterback Trey Tinsley after a hot start. The first-year starter completed 14 of 21 passes for 187 yards in the first quarter and looked comfortable in the Chargers' up-tempo spread attack. But La Habra's defense, featuring seven returning starters in the front eight, progressively got tougher. Tinsley, finished 31 of 53 for 292 yards.
“Part of it is having a defensive front that got a little pressure on him,” Mazzotta said. "And I think Coach (Cody) Verdugo and the defensive staff did a great job getting ready. Again, the kids have experience."
El Toro wide receiver Dominic Collins finished with 11 catches for 125 yards.
Barriere completed 9 of 17 passes for 188 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to receiver Edrick Flores on his second attempt. Flores out-jumped his defender at the El Toro 38 and raced to the end zone to give La Habra a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Barriere tossed a 51-yard touchdown to Casas with 3:19 left in the third quarter as La Habra took a 19-3 lead. Barriere also scrambled 18 yards on a fourth-quarter drive to help set up a bruising 16-yard touchdown run by 295-pound defensive lineman Greg Gaines.
“The kid does a pretty good job,” Mazzotta said of Barriere, who left the game late because of cramps. “He made some young-guy mistakes but he made up for it with some other flashy things he does.”
La Habra took a 13-3 lead into intermission thanks to two big plays in the final 1:30 of the second quarter.
Willard nabbed La Habra's third interception of the opening half and returned the third-down attempt 63 yards to the El Toro 20 with 1:08 left. On the next play, Barriere connected with Cases for 20-yard score.
La Habra didn't capitalize on the other two interceptions. Drake returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown with 5:53 left in the second quarter but the score was nullified by an illegal block to the back on the return. El Toro's defense then held after La Habra started the ensuing drive at the Chargers' 23.
El Toro's Aaron Ball kicked a 22-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in the first quarter. Sophomnore wide receiver Collin Kentros added six receptions for 38 yards for the Chargers.
Next week, La Habra takes on La Mirada (0-1) while El Toro plays Capistrano Valley (1-0).
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