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Orcutt Academy finally met an intriguing test in the 8-man realm – and one that brought with them a gleaming resume that includes the 2017 CIF Central Section 8-man title: The Fresno Christian Eagles.

And The Eagles proved they’re still a force from the 559 at Pioneer Valley on Friday – holding off red-hot Orcutt Academy and pulling away 45-27 in a huge battle involving future Central Section playoff ramifications.

The Eagles, who also play 11-man before league games, were last season’s 8-man title winner in the San Joaquin Valley at 9-4. They entered PVHS with a 5-1 record in tow – and showed why their record defines their team through the first seven games.

On the opening possession, dual-threat quarterback Anthony Lonardo had the Spartans (5-2 overall) on their heels with his ability to tuck the ball into his midsection and then find an opening down the field on the fake handoffs. The first drive culminated with Lonardo calling his own number and punching it in from 8 yards out for the games first points.

The Spartans, however, responded two drives later with a record-tying run by Max Daniels. He found an opening on the right side of the Eagles’ defense and then accelerated his way for the 78-yard score – tying Darin Miller’s previous record of longest touchdown run in OAHS program history.

Fresno Christian eventually responded by turning to one of the LaCroix brothers: Senior Aaron LaCroix.

LaCroix scored on a 29-yard strike to get the Eagles to retake the lead at 14-7. LaCroix tacked on another touchdown – this one from 12 yards – to give the Eagles the two touchdown lead.

Jonah Lozano, then, torched the highly competitive Spartans’ defense on a 44-yard touchdown bomb, extending the lead to 27-7.

However, on Homecoming night, the Spartans wanted to find ways to keep some offensive fireworks alive.

“We told our guys that no matter the score, this team has been able to fight back and put it whatever points we need,” OAHS head coach Ben Alberry said. “I told them: This game is not over, battle back and let’s win the second half.”

Daniels went on to find Josiah DeBruno on a 20-yard strike to cut the lead to 27-14. Then, with seconds left in the second quarter, Casey Daniels picked off a desperation heave to close the first half and keep the momentum on the Spartans’ side.

After LaCroix completed the hat trick by scoring his third touchdown on a 29-yard run, Orcutt Academy continued to pound away.

Daniels bobbled a quarterback snap and began to roll to his right. He soon found a sprinting DeBruno for the 32-yard score to cut the lead to 33-20. On the next drive, FCHS drove deep to the OAHS 10-yard line, but Conable leaped to the sky and hauled down the interception in the end zone.

In the next drive, OAHS was facing a fourth and 10. Daniels not only went to the air – but went to his brother Casey for the 53-yard touchdown that energized the Spartan fan base. That score dissected the lead to 33-27 in the third.

However, the Eagles inflated the lead back to double digits – off of a 26-yard run down the heart of the Spartans’ defense with 1:04 left in the third.

LaCroix provided the final dagger of the night by powering inside for the 2-yard score and making it an 18-point advantage.

Bptched snaps and an inability to get the air attack going helped doom the Spartans in the end.

“We have lately tried to get our pass game going. We had opportunities – but some of those opportunities we missed,” Alberry said.

Despite the loss on Homecoming night, Alberry left feeling content about the effort his team showed against one of the tougher mountains to scale in the CIF Central Section 8-man field.

“I thought they battled and did what they could. We’ll see them again,” Alberry said.

Daniels finished with 144 yards passing and rushed for 151 yards. Sutton finished with 49 rushing yards.

Angela Morrill and Chase Funkhouser were nominated the OAHS 2018 Homecoming Queen and King, respectively.

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Sports Reporter