ANAHEIM — As playoff games go, this one wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright disappointing.
And just about everyone on both sides of the field Friday night at Western High knew it.
But teams that find a way to go undefeated throughout the regular season usually find a way to overcome off-nights. And that's exactly what Western High did in its lackluster 17-7 victory over Canyon in the first round of the Southern Section Division V playoffs.
How disappointing was the game?
"Downright ugly," Western Coach Jim Howell said. "You don't need to be Einstein to figure that out."
Western (11-0), the Orange League champion, committed three fumbles, lost two, and turned the ball over twice on interceptions.
Canyon (6-4-1) had a punt blocked, another hurried, committed two poorly executed field-goal attempts, was intercepted once and fumbled twice, losing one. The Commanches got inside Western's 15-yard line twice--once on a first-and-goal at the six--and went away empty both times.
"I can't tell you why we fumbled like we did," Western running back Mike Mueller said. "It was wet out there. Maybe that's why."
True, low-level fog drifted on and off the field, but Howell didn't bring the Pioneers this far for those kind of excuses.
"Whoever we play next week, we better play better than this," he said.
A reverse to end Kody Miller backfired on Canyon seven minutes into the game when Western's Max Mormont stripped Miller of the ball and Juan Baltazar recovered at the Canyon 26.
Mueller took a handoff from quarterback Dean Chambers behind right tackle on the next play and weaved his way into the end zone.
Defensive end Vince Branstetter set up the second Pioneer score by blocking a punt attempt by Scott Walker at the Canyon 21. Peter Mendia recovered and returned it five yards. This time Mueller burst threw a huge hole off left tackle and scored. But Western got sloppy after that. Mueller and quarterback Dean Chambers couldn't get together on a handoff at the Pioneer 36 with about eight minutes left in the half. The fumble was recovered by Canyon's Dev-Ven Robinson.
The Commanches capitalized, marching 26 yards in eight plays with quarterback Craig Scott tossing the final two yards to Miller.
Western used Mueller's 44-yard kickoff return to get right back. The Pioneers got all the way to the Commanche two-yard line, but Canyon's Corey Mayne hit Mueller in the backfield on second down and goal. Mueller fumbled, Canyon's Talal Alfakhouri recovered and gave the ball to Miller on a lateral. By the time Mueller took Miller down by the jersey, he was at the Western 34.
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