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KEVIN SULLIVAN, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
La Habra kicker Jackson Willard celebrates atop teammates shoulders after his late field goal gave the Highlanders a 10-7 victory over Los Alamitos in their CIF-SS Southwest Division first-round playoff game Friday night.

Late kick keeps La Habra alive in playoffs

OCVARSITY.COM

LA HABRA - All La Habra kicker Jackson Willard had done is kick extra points. Even that had been eventful, the diminutive sophomore experiencing his fair share of troubles with the shortest of kicks.

It left Highlanders coach Frank Mazzotta conflicted in the fourth quarter of Friday's CIF-SS Southwest Division first-round game with Los Alamitos.

La Habra faced fourth-and-5 at the Griffins 8 with 3:18 remaining and the score tied. Mazzotta wanted to go for it. His coaches talked him out of it.

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Willard split the uprights, his 25-yard field goal giving the Highlanders a 10-7 victory at La Habra High.

"I'm glad that everybody convinced me to kick a field goal because that would have been stupid not to," Mazzotta said. "You got to hand it to our kicker. Nothing bigger than that field goal."

It was Willard's first made field goal of the season and just his second attempt.

"Once I saw it, oh my gosh, I knew it was in," Willard said. "Words can't explain the feeling. I was thinking (it would come down to a field goal) the entire third and fourth quarters."

No. 18 La Habra (8-3), the Freeway League champion, will play against No. 4 seed Foothill in the second round next week at Tustin High. The Highlanders won four CIF section titles in a row from 2007-10, three of which in the Southwest Division, before losing to El Toro in last year's semifinals.

No. 17 Los Al (6-5), which earned an at-large berth after finishing fourth in the Sunset League, has not won a postseason game since 2004.

Willard's winning kick was set up by a 54-yard pass from Sean Sparling to Christian Casas, who eluded two defenders before scampering down the sideline. Casas finished with eight catches for 96 yards. Sparling completed 12 of 19 passes for 129 yards.

La Habra was on the verge of taking the lead late in the third quarter, only to be victimized by a Dashawn Gordon interception at the Los Alamitos 1-yard line. The Griffins forced three turnovers, two inside their own 15. La Habra's defense forced two turnovers and held the Griffins to 140 yards of offense.

"They did a fantastic job all night," Mazzotta said. "It's been that way here forever. If you're going to win a championship, you got to stop people."

La Habra also got a big lift from 270-pound defensive tackle Greg Gaines, who doubles as a running back. He scored the Highlanders' touchdown in the first quarter. Four of his other runs went for first downs, three coming on fourth down. He finished with 26 yards on seven carries.

Tailbacks Hector Islas and Sebastian Salinas combined for 137 rushing yards.

This was the seventh meeting between La Habra and Los Alamitos since 2002 — the Griffins won the previous six — and it was the closest. Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, Los Alamitos capitalized on good field position with a 21-yard touchdown run by Kendall Brownlow to tie it.

"It was a great game," Mazzotta said. "I didn't think it would be anything different. They have an unbelievable tradition behind them. Those types of teams don't not play hard."


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