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Ajene Harris helps Crenshaw get past Venice, 30-25, and into title game

Senior throws for a touchdown, runs for one and intercepts two passes to lead the Cougars in a City Section Division I semifinal game.

November 30, 2013|By Steve Galluzzo
  • Crenshaw quarterback Ajene Harris (11) celebrates with teammates during a victory last season.
Crenshaw quarterback Ajene Harris (11) celebrates with teammates during… (Patrick T. Fallon / For the…)

Venice players could be having nightmares about Ajene Harris for weeks.

The USC-bound senior threw for a touchdown, ran for another and intercepted two passes as Los Angeles Crenshaw built a 24-point halftime lead, then withstood a furious comeback to defeat the Gondoliers, 30-25, ib Friday night in a City Section Division I semifinal game at Crenshaw High.

The second-seeded Cougars (9-4) will play top-seeded and defending champion Harbor City Narbonne in the championship game next Friday night at East Los Angeles College. 

Harris threw a 35-yard touchdown strike to Nolan Grigsby late in the first quarter and scrambled out of the pocket for a nine-yard touchdown with 1:20 left in the second quarter to give the Cougars a 24-0 lead at halftime. With Venice threatening, Harris grabbed a tipped ball with one hand at the Cougars' 10-yard line and returned it 72 yards before being driven out of bounds on the final play of the first half. 

Anthony Rodriguez had kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it 10-0 early in the second quarter.

Jacob Knight rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns in 18 carries, including a 45-yard burst up the middle that gave the Cougars a seemingly safe 30-12 lead with 3:51 left in the fourth quarter.

"We watched film on them and I just know where to be in certain formations and I was able to make the plays," said Harris, who dropped a third interception at the five-yard line in the third quarter and had a fourth called back on a penalty early in the fourth quarter. "We thought the game was over at halftime, that was in everyone's mind." 

The third-seeded Gondoliers (10-3) cut their deficit to 11 points on a 38-yard pass from Alexander Diamont, who had committed to Indiana, to Kaelin Jones and pulled to within the final margin on Diamont's 30-yard strike to Dewan Thompson with 37 seconds left. However, Diamont got tackled behind the line on the two-point conversion and the ensuing onside kick rolled out of bounds, allowing Crenshaw to take possession and run out the clock. 

"Coach asked the offense to get him 25 points in the second half and that's what we did," Diamont said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough. They're a good team and it's hard to pass against them but I'm proud of us for not giving up. They've been blowing everyone out by 40 points in the first half and they only put up 30 all game on us."     

Harris threw for 146 yards by completing seven of 12 passes for Crenshaw, which has knocked Venice out of the playoffs three times in the last four years. Michael Simmons had four catches for 96 yards and also intercepted a pass for Crenshaw. Jones had five receptions for 93 yards and Thompson caught eight passes for 73 yards for Venice.  

There was debate after the City playoff pairings were released over which team deserved the No. 1 seed. Crenshaw played the toughest nonleague schedule, dropping four of its first five games to top Southern Section schools, and was seeded No. 2 behind the Gauchos. 

"Whether your the No. 1 or No. 2 seed it doesn't matter, you still have to go out and play," Harris said.

After Dews intercepted a pass by Harris at the Crenshaw 25-yard line, Thompson made a fourth-down catch on a slant in but was tackled half a yard short of a first down and the Cougars took over on downs at their own 17 with less than five minutes to play. Knight ran for the winning score three plays later.  

Venice Coach Angelo Gasca was disappointed in the loss but not in his team's effort. 

"I never felt we never had a chance," he said. "We were down 28-0 to Oaks Christian and made a game of it. I asked them for 25 points in the second half. I guess I should've asked for 31."

sports@latimes.com

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