By STEVE FRYER
ANAHEIM - Cypress might not be as large or as offensively explosive as it was last year when the Centurions won a CIF championship. But they still are finding ways to win. The Centurions used a quick defense and made enough big plays on offense to beat Valencia, 15-10, Thursday in an Empire League game at Western High.
The victory gave Cypress sole possession of first place in the Empire. Cypress is 2-0 in league. Grouped together at 1-1 are Loara, Kennedy and Valencia. Katella and Pacifica, both 0-1 in league, play tonight at Bolsa Grande High. Cypress is 4-3 overall. Valencia is 5-2.
A fumble recovery led to Cypress´ first touchdown and the Centurions got two of their five sacks in the final minute of the game. On Valencia´s last-chance play on fourth-and-10 at the Cypress 45-yard line, Valencia receiver Karsen Garcia took a short pass but was tackled quickly by Cypress cornerback Ryan Milosek 5 yards shy of a first down. "Our defense came through," Cypress coach Ray Fenton said. "They´ve been doing a very good job the last three weeks."
The offense did enough to support that defense. After Cypress linebacker Marcus Maldonado recovered a Valencia fumble at the Tigers´ 14-yard line, Centurions quarterback Max Reza passed to Archie Bernard on a tackle-eligible play for 13 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter. The kick for the extra point missed, leaving Cypress with a 6-0 lead. In the final minute of the half, a A 34-yard completion from Reza to Tyler Donahue set up a 37-yard field goal by Shawn Hansen on the half´s final play to make it 9-0.
Valencia´s Jesse Sandoval kicked a 35-yard field goal to trim Cypress´ lead to 9-3. A muffed punt return was recovered by the Tigers´ Garrison Kean at the Centurions´ 20 to set up the field goal. The Tigers took the lead with 9:32 to go in the fourth quarter when quarterback David Pina connected with Aaron Brewer on a 25-yard touchdown pass play. Sandoval´s kick for the extra point put Valencia ahead, 10-9.
Cypress´ winning drive started with 6:05 to go. Reza completions of 28, 4 and 19 yards led the Centurions downfield until Reza scored on a 9-yard run with 2:02 left. Cypress went for two, but Reza´s pass was knocked down, leaving the score 15-10. Valencia´s final drive started at its 20 with 1:56 to go. A fourth-down screen pass from Pina to Isaac Dominguez was good for 15 yards and a first down, and a facemask penalty on a sack, a fourth-down play, kept the Tigers alive until Milosek´s tackle ended it. "We´re not a big team, by any means," Fenton said. "But we´re doing a good job with what we have." Cypress has beaten Valencia three times in a row.
They did not play during the regular season last year, because of widespread fires and the resulting poor air quality that canceled or postponed many games. But they met in the CIF-Southern Section Southern Division semifinals, in which Cypress took a 28-21 victory, before going on to defeat another league rival, Pacifica, in the division final. Cypress beat Valencia in a league game in 2006, 10-6. Cypress plays Loara in a league game next Friday at Glover Stadium. Valencia, which also lost to Western, plays Katella on Thursday at Glover Stadium