COAL CENTER -- California and Chartiers-Houston each had the same task heading into Friday night’s game.
Win and clinch second place in the Tri-County South Conference and a playoff berth, or lose and have its playoff fate up in the air, hoping to get one of the two wild-card spots for Class A.
California wasted no time putting its foot down on Senior Night, scoring twice before its offense even touched the field and never looking back as it rolled to a 40-12 victory over Chartiers-Houston.
“The emotions are crazy because we are all sitting on the football field thinking, ‘Wow, this is our last football game ever on this field,’” said California senior running back Lucas Qualk. “It’s a really special night for us, especially to get the win.”
The Trojans special teams took care of business right from the opening kick thanks to starting quarterback Cochise Ryan, who returned it 76 yards untouched for a touchdown to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead. Then, after forcing Chartiers-Houston to punt, running back Jaedan Zuzak zig-zagged his way through the Bucs’ special teams unit for a 78-yard score with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter.
“The start of the game was really ugly for us. You have two special teams return for touchdowns,” said Chartiers-Houston head coach Terry Fetsko. “It’s hard to open up the game against a good team and be down 14-0, but we continued to fight back.”
Chartiers-Houston answered with a 16-play scoring drive that ended late in the first quarter, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Lento to Jimmy Sadler on fourth down. California blocked the extra point to keep the score at 14-6.
Qualk pushed the California lead to 21-6 on the next drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.
Ryan was injured at the end of the first half and didn’t play the remainder of the game, leaving the quarterback duties to Qualk. He didn’t attempt a pass, but conducted three more scoring drives over the final two quarters, including a 55-yard touchdown run of his own.
“I was trying to remember all the plays because I haven’t practiced quarterback since August. They ran really basic plays. I have to give it to my line and my running backs,” said Qualk. “I’ve got to give it to them. All I did was hand off the ball.”
Chartiers-Houston had multiple opportunities in California territory, but three interceptions and several turnover-on-downs plagued the Bucs despite Lento throwing for 270 yards on 14-of-37 passing with two touchdowns.
The turning point came early in the second half when Chartiers-Houston had cut the deficit to 28-12 and then recovered an onside kick. However, the California defense held firm and forced a turnover-on-downs. From that point on, the Trojans outscored the Bucs, 14-0.
“Tonight (the special teams) finally clicked. It’s about time,” said California head coach Ed Woods. “I also thought running the football, the kids are starting to click, and they’re starting to click at the right time in terms of running the ball.”
Senior Colton Lusk led the rushing attack for California with seven carries for 128 yards and a touchdown, all in the second half. Qualk finished with 101 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns, and Damani Stafford added 93 yards rushing.
“We made some plays, but we left some on the field,” said Fetsko. “You just have to come back and regroup. It won’t break us at all. We will come back and have a strong week of practice.”
Tri-County South Conference
Chartiers-Houston 6-0-6-0 -- 12
California 14-7-13-6 -- 40
Cal: Cochise Ryan 76 kickoff return (Jimmy Lallier kick)
Cal: Jaedan Zuzak 78 punt return(Jimmy Lallier kick)
CH: Jimmy Sadler 8 pass from Anthony Lento (kick failed)
Cal: Lucas Qualk 6 run (Jimmy Lallier kick)
Cal: Colton Lusk28-yard run(Jimmy Lallier kick).
CH: Carson Craig 40 pass from Anthony Lento (pass failed)
Cal: Lucas Qualk 55 run (kick failed)
Cal: Jaedan Zuzak 18 run (kick failed)
Records: Chartiers-Houston (5-2, 6-3), California (5-1, 6-3)