By STEVE FRYER
Photo by ERIC WOLFE
The Orange County Register
PLACENTIA - Kennedy running back Ed Pleasant only had 23 rushing yards at halftime. "We needed to find him some plays that worked," Kennedy coach Mitch Olson said. They found them. Pleasant rushed for 162 yards and a touchdown in the second half, and Kennedy's defense shut out Valencia for three quarters Friday for a 16-6 victory in an Empire League game at Valencia High. It was the league opener for the teams picked by league coaches to be the top contenders for the league championship. "It's a very big win," Pleasant said. "We're the top two teams in the league. But I'm not saying we've already won the league championship, because we've got a long ways to go."
A team that has emerged as a league contender is Cypress, which beat Katella on Friday in another Empire League opener. Cypress is 6-0 overall, and plays Kennedy in two weeks. Kennedy had lost three in a row, by a total of seven points, going into the game. The Fighting Irish are 3-3 overall, 1-0 in league. Valencia is 3-3 and 0-1. Valencia took the opening kickoff and drove 78 yards on 15 plays to score. The drive took more than eight minutes, with Wes Fletcher carrying a 2-yard touchdown run. The kick for the extra point missed, leaving Valencia with a 6-0 lead with 3:36 to go in the quarter.
Penalties and a turnover - Valencia's D.J. Russell made an interception - conspired to keep Kennedy scoreless until the final moments of the half. With 1.9 seconds remaining, Kennedy quarterback Erick Okula connected with receiver Steve Salazar in the right back corner of the end zone. The Fighting Irish extra-point kick failed, too, leaving the score at 6-6 at halftime. After a scoreless third quarter, Kennedy took the lead on an 8-yard touchdown run by Pleasant, who had a 36-yard carry on that scoring drive. Seth Guardado's kick for the extra point gave the Irish a 13-6 advantage. Guardado added a 31-yard field goal with 4:25 to go to make it 16-6.
Kennedy's defense held Valencia to 78 yards of offense in the second half. Among the Irish defensive stars was junior linebacker Ryan See, who had three sacks, including two in the fourth quarter. "That was his best game," Olson said. "The whole team hung in there and played tough." Pleasant said it was, in some ways, a typical game for Kennedy. "We're a second-half team," he said. "Our linemen really picked it up in the second half." Fletcher rushed for 110 yards on 24 carries, for an average of 4.6 a carry. He was averaging 149 yards a game and 7.5 a carry going into the game. Valencia coach Mike Marrujo said Fletcher had been nursing a sprained ankle.
Fletcher had 17 carries for 62 yards in the first half, and seven for 48 in the second. Kennedy quarterback Erick Okula was 12 for 22 for 122 yards. Both teams had byes last week. Next week, Kennedy will play Katella on Friday at Western High. Valencia will play Loara on Thursday at Glover Stadium.
Kennedy 0 6 0 10 - 16
Valencia 6 0 0 0 - 6
Val - Fletcher 2 run (Russell kick failed)
Ken - Salazar 16 pass from Okula (Guardado kick failed)
Ken - Pleasant 8 run (Guardado kick)
Ken - Guardado 31 FG
Rushing- Ken, Pleasant 22-185, Smith 5-19; Val, Fletcher 24-110, Schmidt 2-14
Passing- Ken, Okula 12-22-1-122; Val, Beckman 9-20-0-94
Receiving- Ken, Smith 4-43, Norton 3-27; Val, Schmidt 2-18, Russell 5-66
Records:Ken 1-0, 3-3; Val 0-1, 3-3