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Pate's Many Happy Returns Lead Fullerton to Victory


La Quinta Coach Jeff Veeder came to two difficult conclusions Friday night: Fullerton was a better team than its 5-5 record indicated, and quarterback Jonathan Pate was better than advertised.

Pate returned a punt, a kickoff and an interception for a touchdown and he passed for two more scores in Fullerton's 43-27 victory over La Quinta in the first round of the Southern Section Division IX playoffs. The Indians (6-5) will face second-seeded Brea Olinda in the second round.

La Quinta led, 21-14, in the third quarter, but that was before Pate took the game into his hands. Pate, who returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown in the first half, set up Fullerton's tying touchdown with a 31-yard punt return to La Quinta's eight-yard line. On the second play of the fourth quarter, he broke two tackles before he threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Andy Zarate, giving Fullerton a 28-21 lead.

Two minutes later, Pate was at it again. Following a safety, he took back a free kick 72 yards to give Fullerton a 37-21 lead. Moments later, Pate read La Quinta quarterback Thi Huyhn's eyes from his safety position, stepped in front of an Aztec receiver and returned an interception 38 yards.

Game over.

"Going in, I knew this could be the last high school football game for me," Pate said. "I kept that thought with me all night. I wasn't ready for my high school career to end. I wanted to keep playing."

Veeder said he tried to kick the ball away from Pate. It didn't work. Pate had more than 200 yards on kick returns.

"Jonathan Pate is a super athlete," Veeder said. "We couldn't stop him. That was the key."

Veeder had a pretty good No. 24 on his team--Hai Duyen Nguyen. But Nguyen suffered a slight concussion late in the second quarter. He rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but he wasn't the same player in the second half. He finished with 157 yards in 19 carries.

"I was trying to give him directions to the locker room at halftime," Veeder said. "He took a pretty good lick."

Huyhn also took some pretty good licks as he dropped back to pass, and when he wasn't getting pounded, he was getting pressured. Huyhn completed only six passes in 20 attempts with two interceptions.

"Thi did not have one of his better nights throwing the ball," Veeder said.

La Quinta (8-3) was making its first playoff appearance in eight years. "Our inexperience showed," Veeder said. "And they're a pretty explosive team. That's what I was afraid of."

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