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Emotional Garfield Wins Opener


It wasn't the kind of motivation Garfield High's football team would have ever wanted.

But it was present throughout Friday night's opener against Wilson. Christian Castaneda's name was yelled before the game, during the game and in the team huddle afterward.

The letters "R.I.P." and the number "51" were written on the biceps of many players. For the Bulldogs, after two weeks of going through practices dealing with the death of their teammate, the last thing they could have done was lose their first game.

They didn't. After trailing in the first half, Garfield got rushing touchdowns from Anthony Federico and Daniel Saucedo and withstood a late Wilson rally to score a 21-20 victory at Wilson High.

"It was wonderful," said Federico, the quarterback who led the Bulldogs back from a 14-7 third-quarter deficit. "We dedicated our game to him. We dedicated our season to him.

"We've been through a lot and this was great. All game, we kept saying, 'Let's do this for Christian.' "

Castaneda died Aug. 24, two days after collapsing during practice at Garfield. The L.A. County coroner's office ruled the 15-year-old sophomore died from head trauma.

The Bulldogs helped put their fallen teammate to rest Saturday. They won for him Friday.

Federico tied the score at 14-14 on a one-yard sneak to cap a 10-play, 73-yard drive. Saucedo gave them a seven-point lead with 8:34 remaining when he ran 34 yards up the middle.

"It had to be [the best-case scenario] because of the tragedy," Garfield Coach Ray Galarze said. "I think we were a little too pumped up in the beginning. In the second half, we had to come out and start pounding them and use the size of our linemen."

Wilson closed the deficit to one with 3:11 left when quarterback Emmanuel Pleitez scored from three yards out. The Mules opted to go for two points and the lead, but Andrew Yanez fumbled a handoff as he was pressured by Garfield defenders.

The Mules never got the ball back.

"We didn't have a lot of confidence in stopping them," Wilson Coach Eddie Martinez said. "I'd rather gamble then and go for the lead and see if our defense could hold. I wasn't sure we'd see the ball again."

Wilson looked as if it would take control of the game early. Pleitez worked the Mules' short passing game efficiently from the start, completing his first five passes for 60 yards.

Pleitez's last completion on the opening drive, a 16-yarder to Vince Valenzuela, gave the Mules a 7-0 lead.

With 2:48 left in the second quarter, the Bulldogs got into Wilson territory on a 29-yard punt return by Joe Zuniga. Taking the ball at the 38-yard line, Garfield drove downfield as Federico hit Ricardo Zepeda with a 15-yard pass and Rafael Nunez ran for 14 yards to pick up first downs.

Federico tied the score at 7-7 when he went to his left for five yards and a touchdown after shedding two tacklers to his right.

Martinez knew his team was in for a tough game.

"Losing a player is every coach's nightmare," he said. "I commend Coach Galarze for getting his team ready to play. I knew they were going to be emotional."

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