By Fred J. Robledo, SGVN
ROWLAND HEIGHTS — When push came to shove, West Covina bullied its way to the playoffs in the same fashion that earned the Bulldogs back-to-back CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division titles.
Facing a do-or-die scenario to make the playoffs, West Covina defeated Rowland 28-7 on a wild night in the Hacienda League that ended in a four-way tie for first with Diamond Bar upsetting Bonita in a shocker, 25-24, while Diamond Ranch took care of Walnut 35-0.
Bonita (5-5, 4-2), West Covina (5-5, 4-2), Rowland (7-3, 4-2) and Diamond Ranch (7-3, 4-2) all claimed a piece of the league title, but the big winner appears to be West Covina, who based on a point system, will likely enter the playoffs as the league’s No. 1 entry with Bonita second and Rowland third. Diamond Ranch finishes fourth and will have to hope for an at-large berth when the playoff pairings are announced Sunday.
Walnut athletic director and league coordinator Jerry Person figured out the scenario’s following the games Thursday, but he won’t make it official until an athletic directors meeting this morning.
For a team that felt like it had bad luck all season, West Covina finally has a reason to smile.
“I just wanted to win and get in the playoffs, but with our league this year anything was possible and that proved true tonight,” West Covina coach Mike Maggiore said. “It’s crazy to think it ended in a four-way tie, but I’m not surprised. This is how it’s been all season. But truthfully, I’m just glad we’re still playing.”
West Covina quarterback Jon Najera threw two touchdown passes and ran for another. Najera completed only four of six passes but he finished with 85 yards. Aaron Salgado led the Bulldogs in rushing with 85 yards and a TD.
“I liked the way we played the second half, we were physical,” Maggiore said. “We did some things we haven’t been doing all year and our defense played tremendous in the second half.”
Rowland’s Avery Duffus finished with 91 yards, but all in all, it was a great season for a Raiders team few expected anything from. Even with the loss, they get to enjoy a title too.
“I’m proud of my kids we came out and went toe-to-toe with them in the first half,” Rowland coach Craig Snyder said. “The wheels kind of fell off the cart (in the second half) and you can’t do that against a good football team.
“But I’m proud of my kids, they battled through a lot of adversity and made the playoffs. It’s a tough league.”
West Covina used a steady dose of backs Antonio Hull and Aaron Salgado to march down down the field, but facing a fourth-and-13 after the drive stalled, the Bulldogs turned to quarterback Najera. The senior delivered a 26-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Franklin for a 7-0 lead with 4:24 left in the opening quarter.
Rowland used a 15-play drive to go 77 yards to tie the score.
Duffus did most of the heavy lifting, rushing eight times for 33 yards on the drive. But when it was time to strike, quarterback George Campos looked over the middle and found Joel Delgado all alone for a 22-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-7 early in the second quarter.
Rowland blew a chance to go ahead at half. After Campos threw a 26-yard pass to Miguel Romero to the 7, Campos fumbled and recovered for a 15-yard loss on the next play. Campos came back with a 21-yard pass to Alec Winters on fourth-and-goal, but that left the Raiders five yards short as time expired.
The Bulldogs took advantage on the opening drive of the second half. After nine straight runs, Najera found Sidney Jones running across the middle for an 18-yard TD pass to go back in front, 14-7 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.
After the Raiders and Bulldogs traded turnovers, Najera delivered a 31-yard pas to Jones at the 2-yard line. After three straight Najera runs produced nothing, Najera scored on the fourth try from a yard out to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-7 to start the fourth.
Salgado put the game out of reach, scoring on a 32-yard run with 9:25 left in the fourth to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead to 21 points.