Sometimes even the ugly wins feel pretty darn good.
Highland’s defense made nine sacks and withstood a late East rally in a 15-7 Scots victory at home on Friday.
“Our guys did a great job of just competing all night,” Highland coach Michael Gutierrez said. “We told them that they would find momentum and that East High would keep fighting. Everyone stepped up and did great tonight.”
Highland, a program that has never won a league championship, is 3-0 and nearly shut out a neighborhood rival, with Josh Yubeta and Isidro Reyes up front disrupting East’s passing game all night.
“It’s great knowing that it wasn’t just me flying around,” Yubeta said. “It was all of us. This is amazing.”
The win gives Gutierrez, in his fourth year as the Scots head coach, confidence that Highland has something special in store this season.
“We’ve talked how we’ve beat the teams that we should,” Gutierrez said. “Now we have to start beating the good teams. We know this is a great win for us. They guys played great.”
After the game’s first eight drives ended in seven punts and a fumble, recovered by Highland senior Noah Ramirez, the Scots struck for eight points in a matter of 36 seconds just before halftime.
Pinned back at its own 1-yard line, East succumbed to the Highland defense as Yubeta tackled East fullback Timothy Miller in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead.
Highland then got the first touchdown of the night as Zeke Arambulo avoided pressure in the pocket, stepped up and found a wide-open Matthew Miranda for a 34-yard touchdown pass with one second left in the first half.
“That’s just Zeke just working his butt off all year and being a great person,” Gutierrez said. “All the footwork and work he’s put in paid off right there on that throw.”
Arambulo said he had a conversation with his teammates before the play.
“I looked at them and told them I would get it in the end zone on that play,” Arambulo said. “My guys had my back, and I just did it for them.”
The stage was set for this east-side showdown long before kickoff. The stands were standing-room only more than an hour before the varsity game began.
“This is fun, because it’s something the kids get to experience in a fantastic atmosphere like this,” Gutierrez said.
With temperatures more than 20 degrees cooler than they were two weeks ago, the weather brought even more excitement in air on Friday.
“This is what you think of when it comes to Friday night football,” East coach David Fanucchi said.
Highland took a 15-0 lead late in the third quarter when Cade Sakamoto, who splits time at quarterback with Arambulo, scored on a 1-yard run.
But East (2-1) wasn’t out.
Hahkeem Taylor led the Blades with 131 rushing yards, including 14 on East’s lone touchdown with 5:17 to play.
The Blades, playing without starting quarterback Richard Lara late because of an injury sustained on a fourth-quarter sack, was at midfield when Jahi Hudgins intercepted a Michael Doten pass, allowing Highland to kneel out the clock.
“It was defensive battle, and we are happy with the victory,” Gutierrez said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”