Kellis defense shuts down Independence to end losing streak

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Mark Carlisle

West Valley Preps

The Kellis Cougars are finally back in the win column.

Kellis (1-4) snapped it’s 14-game losing streak and earned its first win under second-year head coach Stephen Hogg with a 20-6 home victory over Independence (1-4) on Sept. 27.

“It’s a lot of emotion,” Hogg said. “I mean, it took two years of hard work and sacrifice and things not going well. It feels amazing to finally put it all together.” Kellis went 0-10 last year and started this year 0-4.

Friday’s game didn’t look promising for the Cougars early as the offense had struggled to move the ball and the team trailed 6-0 with less than a minute left in the first half. With 49 seconds left, senior quarterback Kalen Jordan took a shot deep to senior receiver Andrew Deleon who made the catch down the sideline, shed a tackle, then ran uncontested for a 66-yard score, giving Kellis a 7-6 lead at the half.

The Cougars aired it out more in the second half and their second score came on another 66-yard Jordan-to-Deleon connection. Those two touchdown catches plus a 35-yard catch gave Deleon 167 of Jordan’s 184 passing yards on the day.

Independence coach Santiago Maldonado said blown coverages and lack of awareness of game situation led to the two long touchdown passes his team conceded.

“We just had blown coverages,” Maldonado said. “Now, the kid threw a good ball. No. 4 (Jordan) throws a great ball. We just blew some coverages and they went right by us. We’ve got to be better aware of — hey, it’s 37 seconds left in the first half, what are they going to do? And we’re starting some young kids, and we’ve got to do a better job of coaching them up.”

Kellis left some points on the board, missing three field goals and one extra point. Independence also botched an extra point after its touchdown due to a low snap.

Things looked worse for the Cougars late in the second quarter. After failing to earn a first down on its first four possessions, Kellis’ offense woke up when junior Andrew Palacio broke free for a 59-yard run to the 5-yard line. However, the Cougars couldn’t punch the ball in from there and settled for a field goal.

The kick was blocked by Independence senior Akinidad Gadallah. It looked for a moment like the Patriots had taken a two-touchdown lead when Patriot sophomore Valentin Gbafore corralled the kick and ran it to the opposite end zone, but the officials called the play dead in the end zone for a touchback.

Kellis’ offense had the kinks worked out from there, scoring on its next drive.

After the game, Hogg said Palacio was the player of the game.

“Andrew Palacio played almost the whole game, both sides of the ball and played lights out on both sides. He put the team on his back and carried us tonight,” Hogg said.

Palacio was the game’s leading rusher with 110 yards on 11 carries. He also sealed the victory with an interception on the Patriots’ final drive.

Kellis senior Anthony Rolon also had an interception and junior Simeon Nicholson recovered a fumble defensively.

Independence junior quarterback Elijah Lambert completed 12 of 28 passes for 107 and threw two interceptions. The Patriots went pass-heavy in the second half but not very effectively. Lambert completed 8 of 23 attempts for 70 yards in the half.

Maldonado said penalties halted the offense’s momentum, and the team would work on limiting them moving forward.

“We just got away from what we were doing. We started getting a bunch of penalties. We got holding calls — not blaming the referees, it’s just what took us away from big drives,” Maldonado said.

Independence was called for 10 penalties totaling 83 yards compared to six penalties for 45 yards for Kellis.

The Patriots’ lone score came on special teams when sophomore Joseph Rojo recovered a blocked punt in the end zone.

Maldonado congratulated Hogg on his first win. During its 14-game losing streak, Kellis was outscored 665-143.

“These guys played great. They worked hard all week,” Hogg said. “I talked to them about believing in yourselves, having confidence in what you can do and being a great teammate, and they did that tonight. They gave great effort across the board. You know, we didn’t play a perfect game by any means, but we did what we needed to do.”

It wasn’t long ago that Kellis was a winning program. The team was 7-3 in 2017 and 9-2 in 2016 under coach Shawn Copeland, who also started his tenure with an 0-10 season in 2014.

Hogg said his team will need to repeat its preparation to continue winning.

“The way we operated from Monday ‘til today is something we’ve got to carry forward. We’ve got a really, really tough schedule coming up,” Hogg said. Kellis starts 5A Northwest Region play with a game at Sunnyslope next Friday.

Hogg said the team had to modify its practice schedule because of rain throughout the week, but “they just took it in stride and kept getting after it all week. So, that’s what we need to carry forward is that mentality regardless of who we’re playing. Let’s get after it every day,” he said.

Kellis’ final score Friday came with two and a half minutes left in the game to make it a two-possession game. Junior Alex Medina ran it in from 30 yards out.

All three of Kellis’ scores came from outside of the red zone. The Cougars were 0-for-4 in the red zone.

The Cougars had trouble keeping hold of the ball in the second half, fumbling three times. Kellis recovered the first two fumbles, but the third time Palacio lost a fumble 1 yard from the goal line, giving the Patriots a chance to get back into the game early in the fourth while it was still a one-possession game.

The Patriots got another chance to get back into the game on the Cougars' next drive when Jordan threw into double coverage and was intercepted by Independence senior Ryan Ortega. However, the Patriots couldn't capitalize, throwing interceptions on their final two drives.

Senior Victor Frenes was Independence’s lead rusher with 66 yards on seven carries. Junior Peyton Ortiz led with 48 receiving yards on five catches.

Kellis’ Jordan added 42 rushing yards on 10 attempts to his 184 passing yards.

Up next

Kellis starts 5A Northwest Region play with a game at Sunnyslope next Friday.

Independence starts 5A Desert West Region play with a game at Willow Canyon next Friday.

Kellis junior linebacker Pedro Soto tackles Independence junior quarterback Elijah Lambert during the Cougars 20-6 home win on Sept. 27. The victory ended the program's 14-game losing streak.

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