Senior quarterback Leonardo Vaal finished what freshman counterpart Nicky Peralta had started, throwing the pass that helped Los Angeles Garfield secure a 13-3 victory over Roosevelt on Friday night in the East L.A. Classic.
After the Bulldogs had two passes intercepted in the first half, they turned exclusively to their running game on their first 17 offensive plays of the second half. But then Vaal completed a 37-yard touchdown pass to Steven De La Torre midway through the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs a 10-point lead in front of about 20,000 at East L.A. College.
"They weren't expecting it," Vaal said. "We found single coverage, so we just took advantage of it."
Peralta had started the game and completed five of six passes for 37 yards and a touchdown with one interception in the first half. But Garfield (5-4 overall, 5-0 Eastern League) committed two turnovers deep in Roosevelt territory, and Bulldogs Coach Lorenzo Hernandez decided to replace Peralta at halftime.
"We struggled offensively early, and we knew that was going to happen with our freshman," Hernandez said. "We talked about when the fire got too hot, we were going to pull him, and it got too hot."
Vaal also had a pass intercepted in the first half and spent most of the second half handing off to sophomore running back Lance Fernandez, who finished the game with 171 yards in 22 carries.
The Garfield defense also turned in a stout effort, holding Roosevelt (5-4, 2-3) to 137 total yards of offense. Shortly after the game ended, several Bulldogs players poured the contents of the Gatorade cooler on defensive coordinator Sergio Martinez.
"We build our defense first and then we build everything else around it. It's always our strong point," Hernandez said.
Both teams were buoyed before the game when they walked into their respective locker rooms to find new uniforms provided by Nike. Roosevelt wore black uniforms with gold trim for the first time in the history of the series. Garfield players, who had complained when they thought they were going to have to wear blue jersey tops with matching blue pants, were thrilled to find white tops.
"Nobody really wanted to go all blue," Vaal said. "We saw the jerseys, everyone was excited. It was pandemonium."
Vaal threw three passes in the game, including one that was incomplete and another that was intercepted. But the only one that mattered was the one that secured victory against his team's archrival.
"I felt like I had to prove myself," Vaal said, "so it just felt good."