Vista Murrieta took its time finding its groove Friday night against Rancho Cucamonga before pulling away late in the third quarter, eliminating the Cougars from the CIF playoffs.
It was up to coach Coley Candaele’s vicious Bronco defense to keep the defending champs on track.
The Broncos held Rancho Cucamonga to 222 total yards and denied the Cougars twice on the VM 1-yard line with dramatic fourth-and-goal stands.
They harassed the Rancho Cucamonga quarterback all game long, with Curtis Bolton (3), Ricardo Mermea (2), and Bryce Smith (1 1/2) and the rest of the defense sacking Adam Freiderichsen nine times.
Safety Su’a Cravens partially blocked two Cougar punts while teammate Phillip Jones Ward intercepted a pass for a touchdown.
The Cougars held the mighty Bronco offensive machine to just one TD in the first half.
After one of Bolton’s sacks, Vista Murrieta took advantage of field position and drove the ball to the 1-yard line. Quarterback Nick Stevens capped the drive, taking the ball and scoring on a QB keeper.
It was a classic defensive battle well into the third quarter when the Broncos finally broke the will of the Cougars with their second goal-line stand of the evening.
With the ball a yard from the end zone, Rancho Cucamonga failed to score and the momentum shifted clearly in the Broncos' favor.
“It was a different football game after the goal-line stand,” noted Candaele. “I think that was the game right there.”
The Broncos took over on downs and after a penalty, drove 99 yards to score. QB Stevens connected with Jaimie Nunley for the TD.
Stevens hooked up with Tyler Cook for a touchdown on the ensuing Bronco drive and the route was on.
With Vista Murrieta leading 21-0 with less than 10 minutes left in the game, cornerback Jones-Ward intercepted Cougar QB Fredericksen’s pass and raced 26 yards into the end zone.
Running back Kishawn Holmes put the icing on the Broncos' post-Thanksgiving cake when he took the ball 84 yards for a touchdown.
Final score: Broncos 34, Cougars 0.
Stevens completed 10 of his 20 passes for 114 yards. He threw for two touchdowns and was intercepted once. Holmes ended up with 115 yards rushing.
Next up for Candaele’s Broncos will be Corona’s Centennial High School. The Huskies defeated Upland 46-36 and will face Vista Murrieta in the CIF Southern Section Final for the third consecutive year.