Ponderosa sees state quarterfinal game against Erie slip away

Tigers score 35 unanswered points in second half to stun Mustangs


There are “tale of two halves” football games.

Then there was the Ponderosa-Erie Class 4A state quarterfinal game Saturday afternoon at EchoPark Stadium.

No. 3-seeded Ponderosa, behind near-perfect quarterback play and an opportunistic defense, was cruising in the first half and looked poised to punch its ticket to the semifinal round of the state championships for the first time in four years.

However, the wheels quickly and completely and shockingly came off for the Mustangs as the 11th-seeded Tigers scored 35 unanswered points in the second half to stun Ponderosa 43-25.

“They made some big plays and we didn't,” Mustangs coach Jaron Cohen said.

True, but those eight words don't fully capture what transpired in the second half.

Consider: In the first two quarters, the harvest was bountiful for Ponderosa's passing attack as senior quarterback Zach Stryker completed 8 of 9 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns, powering the Mustangs to a 25-8 halftime lead.

In the second half? Four of the Mustangs' eight drives ended in interceptions, and Stryker and his troop of receivers could only squeeze out 79 yards of offense through the air.

Also consider: In the first half, the Tigers seemed almost allergic to the end zone. They scored once, but the results of their other four drives were two interceptions — one right outside Ponderosa's end zone and the other near the Mustangs' 20-yard line — a punt and a failed fake punt.

In the final two quarters? Five of Erie's eight possessions resulted in touchdowns (the Tigers also threatened on another of their possessions, moving the ball to Ponderosa's 19-yard line before turning it over on downs, and their last possession was used to run out the final 52 seconds of the game).

Of course, because of the Mustangs' four turnovers, Erie had excellent field position all second half. Not counting their final possession, the Tigers' average starting field position was Ponderosa's 37-yard line.

So, what happened in that fateful second half for Ponderosa?

“We didn't come out like we did in the first half,” Stryker said. “We just got lazy. We kind of took our foot off the gas pedal.”

Which was all the more puzzling considering what Ponderosa was able to do in the game's first 24 minutes.

The Mustangs got points on their first four possessions — a 36-yard Logan Matthews field goal, a 7-yard touchdown strike from Stryker to Max Mervin, an 80-yard catch and run by Carson Keach, and a made-for-YouTube touchdown grab by Dylan Karsteter in the back corner of the end zone — to take a 17-point lead at the game's midway point.

That lead evaporated in a hurry, though, as Erie scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions out of the break — in a matter of just 10 minutes, 52 seconds — to go ahead 36-25 late in the third quarter.

There was still plenty of time for Ponderosa to come back, but too much damage — both on the scoreboard and, in all likelihood, psychologically — had already been done. Erie tacked on a touchdown with 3:07 remaining to put the game out of reach for the Mustangs.

“It was a good high school football game,” Cohen said. “Week 1 (on Aug. 26, when Ponderosa beat Erie 39-27 in both teams' season openers) was a good game and this was a good game. Erie's a good team. Good luck to them moving forward.”

Stryker finished 19-for-31 for 267 yards. His main targets were Keach (114 yards), Karsteter (58 yards) and Mervin (43 yards), who all caught four passes. Stryker distributed the ball to nine different receivers in the game.

Leading the way on the ground for Ponderosa was Sean Davis, who toted the ball seven times for 57 yards. Ethan Rodriguez added 39 yards on 10 carries.


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