Welcome to Division 1, Sierra Canyon.
The Trailblazers found out there are no easy games competing at the Southern Section’s highest level, but they proved up to the challenge with a 37-20 quarterfinal win against Santa Margarita on Friday night in Chatsworth.
Sierra Canyon nearly saw a 21-point lead disappear, but safety Ruben Gamboa dove to knock away a fourth-down pass at the goal line to keep the Trailblazers ahead with 2:40 left in the third quarter, and Terrell Cooks capped the ensuing drive with a four-yard run to increase the margin to 27-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Sierra Canyon, a six-time Southern Section champion and last year’s Division 2 winner, iced its first Division 1 playoff win on Dane Dunn’s 10-yard run with three minutes left. Marquis Gallegos set up the score with a 15-yard interception return.
“They’re a great opponent with great players and great will so we had to answer,” Dunn said. “We can’t celebrate in the first half because nothing’s accomplished yet.”
Cooks scored on a 28-yard run to make it 7-0, quarterback Wyatt Becker threw a 48-yard scoring pass to Jae’on Young and Dunn added a three-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0 with less than 10 minutes gone.
Kyle Brody caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from John Gazzaniga to get Santa Margarita (5-6) on the scoreboard early in the second quarter. The Eagles recovered an onside kick to begin the second half and were forced to punt, but it was muffed and they got the ball back at the eight-yard line.
Trent Mosely scored from the wildcat formation on the next play to pull the visitors within 21-14. His interception on Sierra Canyon’s next series allowed Santa Margarita to drive to the Sierra Canyon 12 before the Trailblazers’ defense held.
Santa Margarita had another chance to pull to within a score and on fourth and goal at the one-yard line, Mosely took a direct snap, cut to his left and tried to reach the ball over the goal line, but he came up a foot short, leaving the score at 27-14 with 7:39 left.
Sierra Canyon marched to the Santa Margarita 13 on its ensuing drive and Ashton Zamani kicked a 30-yard field goal to make it 30-14 with 3:22 left.
Gazzaniga completed 17 of 34 passes for 240 yards and scored the final touchdown on a 24-yard run with 36 seconds left.
Becker threw for 255 yards, Cooks ran for 117 yards in 11 carries and Dunn rushed 14 times for 97 yards for Sierra Canyon.
It was Sierra Canyon’s third victory over a Trinity League team this season. The Mission League champion Trailblazers (11-0) opened the season with a 9-7 win against JSerra and beat Orange Lutheran 40-6 in September. Now they face the ultimate test — a semifinal showdown with No. 2 Mater Dei.
Sierra Canyon’s 6-foot-9, 320-pound offensive tackle, Ashdon Wnetrzak, was disqualifed for throwing a punch with 6:30 remaining in the first half.
“You did a heck of a job answering when they came back,” Sierra Canyon coach Jon Ellinghouse told his team after recording his 170th win in 17 seasons at the school. “Hats off to the defense. I believe in you. We’ve got to have another great week of practice.”