California Trojans fall to Imani Christian
The goal for the California Trojans is to improve each week.
Even with Friday's 33-7 loss to visiting Imani Christian, Trojans' coach Brady Barbero liked a lot of what he saw from his team.
“Each week we're getting better,” Barbero said of his team. “We had five takeaways and our defense played pretty well against that offense.
“The fact is that we were inside their 10-yard line a few times and we couldn't score. That's what did us in.”
The Trojans defense was up to the task against the high-powered Saints' offense, which is led by one of the top passers in the WPIAL, Khari Hicks.
Hicks, a senior, came into the game second in the WPIAL with 1,195 yards passing and completing 72 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns.
“I thought our defense did well against him,” Barbero said of Hicks. “We got some good pressure on him. They let up a couple passes here and there, but our guys made it tough for him.”
Hicks completed 9-of-17 passes for 120 yards but threw four interceptions. He didn't throw a touchdown pass.
The Saints offense got off to a quick start when Ron Brown scored on a 6-yard touchdown run. After the Trojans' ensuing drive stalled, the Saints dug into their playbook on a second down play.
Hicks dropped back and threw what appeared to be a wide receiver screen to Troy Simon, but Simon cocked back and threw deep downfield for Eric Scott, who hauled in the wobbly pass and raced for a 59-yard touchdown. The extra point was wide and the Saints led 13-0.
California's thunderous running game found the space between the tackles clogged up by a stout Saints' defense.
“They have a tough, fast defense,” Barbero said of the Saints. “We had some different openings and a chance at a couple shots. We were pounding it in there, but they're defense was real physical. We knew we had to be more physical and we had to go right at them and hit them with a little misdirection.”
The Trojans (1-5, 1-5) only managed 58 yards rushing. Austin Hunter (14) and Cory Adams (13) combined for 27 yards on eight carries each.
“When we got started on a drive we tended to make a mistake, and we can't do that,” Barbero said. “To score, we have to make some good drives and we can't afford to make a mistake, we can't afford a fumble here or a missed block.”
Adams couldn't get started running the ball, so he made an impact defensively, as he made the first of his team's four interceptions early in the second quarter.
On the next Saints' drive, it was Hunter picking off Hicks and racing 25 yards to the end zone.
Imani Christian (5-1, 5-1) responded on the next drive when Hicks hooked up with Scott for a 50-yard pass down to the Trojans' 8-yard line. Two plays later, Hicks scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns on the night to give the Saints a 19-7 lead.
The Trojans made it down to the Saints 2-yard line with less than a minute remaining, but quarterback Malik Jackson had a pass picked off in the end zone with only seconds remaining to leave the score at 19-7.
“At the half we made some adjustments and everybody was believing,” Barbero said. “There wasn't any doubt in that locker room. We knew we could play with them.”
The Trojans chewed up nearly have of the third quarter on their opening drive of the second half, but the Trojans fumbled away a bad snap, which Hicks turned into a touchdown five plays later on a 30-yard run.
Brown added another 6-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring on the night.
Hunter added a second interception and James Bongiorno added another for the Trojans in the final frame.
“We knew he liked to throw across the middle and throw it deep,” Barbero said of Hicks. “We needed to make sure we protected our areas, and our linebackers did a great job taking away that middle all night long.
“We don't like to lose, but I liked a lot of what I saw,” Barbero said. “We'll break down the film and get ready for Chartiers-Houston next week.”
GAME NOTES: Jackson finished 12-of-18 for 104 yards passing ... Hicks ran six times for 73 yards ... Scott caught four passes for the Saints for 115 yards and had a 54-yard touchdown run called back by a holding penalty ... Imani Christian was whistled for eight penalties for 65 yards ... The Saints will travel to Monessen Friday ... The Trojans will celebrate homecoming against Chartiers-Houston next week.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.