Upland begins title defense with, well, defense

Will Lester/StaffPhotographer

Upland High School’s football team gave literal meaning to defending a title.

The Highlanders opened their Baseline League championship defense by shutting down Rancho Cucamonga in a 19-7 win Friday night at Los Osos High School between two teams ranked in the top four of the CIF-SS Inland Division.

In its pervious game, No. 3 Upland (6-0, 1-0) allowed 41 points in a four-point win over Corona Santiago, but the Highlanders put that in the rearview mirror by holding No. 4 Rancho Cucamonga (4-2, 0-1) to 149 total yards.

The Rancho Cucamonga defense lived up to its lofty billing, limiting everybody other than Upland quarterback Nate Romine to 22 yards.

“When you have two great defenses playing each other, I think the difference in the game is going to be the quarterback,” Upland coach Tim Salter said. “Nate was checking into other plays at the line, he was making the right decisions on option plays and he was making people miss in the open field. He was the difference in this game.”

After Upland was held to three points in the first two quarters, Romine rushed for 101 of his 105 yards and both of his team’s touchdowns in the second half. The senior also completed 11 of 18 passes for 104 yards with no interceptions.

Upland, which defeated Rancho Cucamonga 31-17 last season on its way to a Baseline League title and a 12-0 start to the season, has gotten past its biggest threat in the league, but has four games remaining in a deep league.

“All offseason people were talking about the terrors in Rancho Cucamonga,” Romine said. “I think a lot of people, media, ESPN, weren’t giving us enough credit. This win means a lot.”

Romine scored the game’s final touchdown one play after Rancho Cucamonga fumbled at its own 17-yard line, giving Upland a 12-point lead with 9:22 to play after the two-point conversion failed.

On the Highlanders’ previous possession, the Rancho Cucamonga defense forced Upland’s second field goal despite a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. A six-point deficit, however, quickly became a 19-7 hole, requiring two scores from Rancho Cucamonga instead of simply seven points to take the lead.

“You can’t make mistakes like that against a good team,” Rancho Cucamonga coach Nick Baiz said. “Overall I thought we played OK. They’re quarterback was slippery and we made a couple mistakes.”

The Cougars converted Upland’s only turnover into a 59-yard drive that ended in first-quarter touchdown. Rancho Cucamonga would gain just 88 yards the rest of the game, 21 of which came on the final fruitless drive.

Quarterback Adam Friederichsen was held to 80 yards passing and the Cougars rushed for a total of 60 yards on the ground. Rancho Cucamonga punted on six of its nine possessions. Of the other three, one produced a touchdown, one ran out the clock on the first half and the final one was a turnover on downs.

Until the third quarter, Upland was having similar troubles against a Rancho Cucamonga defense with four players already with multiple scholarship offers.

Romine led a seven-play, 65-yard on the opening possession of the third quarter that was extended by a Rancho Cucamonga offsides penalty on fourth-and-1. Set up at the Cougars’ 12-yard line following the penalty, Romine punched in a touchdown two plays later to give Upland its first lead at 10-7.

“We didn’t make any adjustments at halftime,” Salter said. “We just
told them to play harder.”

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