By Megan Perry
The James A. Garfield High School Bulldogs clinched a spot in the Division I high school football playoffs on Friday as they defeated the Theodore Roosevelt High School Rough Riders in the 77th Annual East Los Angeles Classic, at Weingart Stadium.
Garfield beat Roosevelt in Friday’s Eastern League match for a second straight year since 2006 with a final score of 29-15, placing the Bulldogs second in their league behind currently undefeated South East High School. The Bulldogs have a 5-5 overall record, with a five-game-winning-streak in the Division I football standings, and a 5-1 record in conference play.
After an exciting game, which was also both school’s homecoming, Garfield now gets a chance to rest from a tough road schedule with a bye this week. Roosevelt is third in the conference with a 3-2 record and plays at the 2-3 Bell Eagles next week.
Prior to Garfield’s current win, Roosevelt held a five-game winning-streak from 2000-2004. Roosevelt holds the lead in total Classic wins with 40 while Garfield moves up to 31. The two schools are among the oldest in the area, which drives the huge rivalry.
Bulldog coach Lorenzo Hernandez said he is very proud of his team for their win and their tremendous effort. Hernandez said this game gave Garfield two straight wins, which they have not accomplished in a while.
The Bulldogs had some big plays for the night, including Lance Fernandez’s 80-yard rush for a touchdown in the last quarter with less than three minutes on the clock. “We are really proud of them (the team). It’s all for the kids and I’m glad they’re happy with their victory,” said Hernandez.
Bulldog quarterback Nicky Peralta had a total of 74 of 137 completed passing attempts for more than 1000 yards passing this season. He pushed the ball down the field and took risks in order to beat the Rough Riders.
Peralta looked for his opening to get the ball across the goal-line several times, and decided to go for a few two-point conversions. “It took a lot of heart. I couldn’t do it without the (offensive line), the (defensive line), and the (rest of the) defense,” said Peralta. He felt the game meant a lot to Garfield because the win earns bragging rights around the community.
Roosevelt was not left in the dust but kept up with the competition for a “game of inches,” as called by Rough Riders coach, Javier Cid. Rough Rider wide-receiver Jesus Gomez, who scored at the first sight of opportunity with an approximate 70-yard kick-off return, later limped off the field in the final quarter. Andony Flores threw a two-point conversion pass after Gomez’s touchdown, giving the Rough Riders the early lead in the first quarter with a score of 8-7.
Rough Rider Linebacker Juan Garcia picked off the ball and ran the interception for a touchdown, which brought Roosevelt up to 15-15 during the first half. Roosevelt is a rushing team with an average of 292.2 rushing yards per game compared to the Bulldogs, who average 173.2 yards. Cid said the rivalry is good for the community, which can be seen in the crowd’s enthusiasm. There were about 18,000 fans who attended the game, almost completely filling the stadium bleachers.
On both sides of the field the crowd, many of whom were alums, could be seen sporting their favorite team attire as they united as a community to root and cheer for the teams. Cid is proud to be a part of what he calls the biggest event on the east side of the L.A. River. “Los Angeles has a lot of huge events, but if you come on this side of the river, this is the biggest,” said Cid.
He feels that the game is an opportunity to come together in a beautiful stadium to show the community in a more positive light. “It’s good for everybody to be a part of it, and I feel privileged,” said Cid.
It was a close game that came down to two failed Rough Rider fourth-down conversions that Garfield’s solid defense stopped, as well as missed two-point conversion. “You look at the score and it doesn’t show that, but it was closer than it looks,” said Cid.
The Bulldogs played hard and came out on top in the Classic this year. Garfield celebrated with numerous pictures that included the trophy and the game ball. “They (the Bulldogs) are a great team. They played a tough schedule and deserve a lot of credit,” said Cid.