La Mirada's Nick Hernandez celebrates his first half touchdown. Los Alamitos was playing La Mirada in the semifinals of the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs in Long Beach on Friday, November 25, 2016. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Los Alamitos season comes undone in red zone


LONG BEACH – Los Alamitos responded to La Mirada’s early forays, but the Griffins’ bid for their first CIF-SS title game since 2004 died, essentially, when they couldn’t get it done in the red zone as halftime arrived and to start the second half.

Elijah Hicks picked off Los Al quarterback Hayden Smith at the 3 on the final play of the first half to preserve the Matadores’ six-point lead, and La Mirada’s defense stopped the Griffins on fourth down at the 7 at the start of the third quarter, then pulled away to a 36-20 triumph in Friday night’s Division 3 semifinal at Veterans Stadium.

Nick Hernandez, returning from a two-week absence with a rib injury, bulled for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries and Tristan Meyer completed 16 of 20 passes for 263 yards and a TD and ran for another score to lead the Matadores to their 10th successive playoff win.

La Mirada (11-2), which won the Southern Division and state Bowl II-AA titles last year, advances to next week’s title game against Edison (12-1), a 32-28 winner over Rancho Verde. The Matadores are seeking their fourth CIF Southern Section championship and third in eight years.

Smith completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards and two scores, connecting six times for 70 yards with Mike Magana, and ran for 41 yards to lead Los Alamitos (9-4).

La Mirada went almost exclusively with Hernandez up the middle or off tackle and Meyer’s mostly short-passing success – he and Hicks hooked up nine times for 141 yards – to build long drives that ate up a lot of clock.

Hernandez’s 2-yard run capped La Mirada’s first drive, but the Griffins, aided by a personal-foul penalty, answered with Smith’s 9-yard lob into the end zone for Drew Platt. Zach Ruiz’s PAT provided a 7-6 edge.

La Mirada followed with another 5-minute, 11-play drive, getting to the end zone on Hernandez’s 20-yard scamper, but Los Alamitos went ahead again with 2:49 left in the half, Dylan Laurent’s 2-yard push following a 47-yard Platt run.

Meyer hit Hicks streaking down the right sideline for a 50-yard TD pass just 17 seconds later to give the Matadores a 20-14 lead. That’s when things went wrong for Los Al.

The Griffins were in position for a halftime lead, but Magana's 23-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding penalty, and Hicks made his interception five plays later. Then, after starting their first second-half possession on the Matadores' 15, they gained just 7 yards on four plays, the last a Smith completion to Magana.

“We didn't finish it,” Los Alamitos coach Ray Fenton said. “We didn’t finish (those two) drives.”

La Mirada followed with a 13-play drive covering another five minutes, with Meyer going the final yard for a 26-14 lead. Brandon Petruescu kicked a 30-yard field goal the next time the Matadores had the ball.

The Griffins pulled within nine points 4½ minutes into the second half, Smith hitting Keanu Norman over the middle on a 34-yard pass play, but La Mirada responded with a nine-play drive capped by Hernandez's 3-yard run. Los Al's last possession ended with an R.J. Lan interception in the end zone.

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