In the battle of the undefeated El Capitan Vaqueros come out victorious

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As the sun set on Lakeside, the hand-painted VISITORS PARKING sign pointed to the dirt lot on Mapleview St. between the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds and the El Capitan football stadium. El Cap’s main parking lot was full in anticipation of the Vaquero’s showdown with fellow undefeated East County heavyweight Granite Hills, forcing late arrivals to crush the scattered rocks with the weight of their cars and pickups before filling their nostrils with kicked-up dust.

As the sun set on Lakeside, the hand-painted VISITORS PARKING sign pointed to the dirt lot on Mapleview St. between the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds and the El Capitan football stadium. El Cap’s main parking lot was full in anticipation of the Vaquero’s showdown with fellow undefeated East County heavyweight Granite Hills, forcing late arrivals to crush the scattered rocks with the weight of their cars and pickups before filling their nostrils with kicked-up dust.

Both teams seemed invigorated by the blue-collar atmosphere, but El Cap (5-0) emerged unscathed after a 28-14 victory, leaving Granite Hills (5-1) with its first loss of the season.

El Cap took a 6-0 lead into the half, but it was the Eagles who led 14-12 to start the fourth quarter. In fact, Granite Hills is the first team to have a lead against the Vaqueros this season.

Eagle quarterback Seth Collins (Sr.), however, said the Eagles were not content with its late lead.

“Anytime we come into a game we’re not just trying to hang in,” he said. “We’re competitors, we’re trying to win. But we made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball and when you make mistakes, you’re going to lose games.”

El Cap took a 15-14 lead on a Takota Curo (Sr.) field goal early in the fourth, but it was the vaunted Vaquero defense that broke the game open. After an eight-yard touchdown reception by receiver Isaiah Capoocia (Sr.) expanded the lead to 22-14, defensive back Jerymiah Munson hit Collins in the backfield and forced a fumble. Defensive lineman Robby Callaway scooped up the ball before it hit the turf and ran 39 yards for a touchdown and the final 28-14 lead.

After the score, the El Capitan student section started chanting, “This game’s over!”

Vaquero head coach Ron Burner said the defense has not received the recognition it deserves.

“Our defense is probably one of the best in the county,” he said. “No one gives our defense much credit… We’ve only had four touchdowns scored on us in five games!”

El Capitan’s creative offense is one reason why the defense has been overshadowed. On its first drive of the game, Capoocia motioned right and took a handoff. Granite Hills crashed the line but Capoocia stepped back and chucked the ball to wide-open receiver Joseph Lachappa (Sr.) for a 71-yard gain.

Vaquero quarterback Brad Cagle said the trick play was just another play for Capoocia.

“We worked on it all week in practice. The whole team had faith in Isaiah to put a nice ball in the air and make a play,” he said. “Just like he always does.”

In the third quarter, however, it was Granite Hills making big plays.

On just the second play of the half, Cagle rolled to his left and overthrew Capoocia and the ball floated into the arms of Eagle defensive back Michael Ladesma (Sr.). Two plays later, Collins connected with Ladesma for a 21-yard touchdown pass and a 7-6 lead.

On the ensuing drive, Granite Hills’ linebacker Kellen Gaeir (Jr.) recovered a fumble by Cagle. Eagle running back Jalen Carter (Sr.) immediately ran 60 yards to the end zone for a 14-6 lead.

Capoocia said the Vaqueros never lost their confidence.

“We pumped our players up,” he said. “We were down and everybody kept their heads up. We had to do something with the ball and everybody knew it.”

Burner said El Capitan’s experience made the difference.

“We’ve got a lot of veterans on our team,” he said. “That sounds weird, but we have seven kids that have been on varsity for three years. They’ve been here before in tight games.”

Collins said the loss was tough, but Granite Hills is already looking past its bye week to the Grossmont-Valley league opener against West Hills on Oct. 17.

“We’re just going to keep playing hard,” he said. “This game isn’t going to determine us or define us. We’re just going to keep playing how we play and we’re just going to bounce back like we always do.”

El Capitan travels to Grossmont High School on Friday to kick off Grossmont-Hills league play.

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