No. 13 Vista Murrieta 27, Chaparral 10

TEMECULA -- Su’a Cravens of Vista Murrieta left no doubt who the player of the game was Friday night. He may have even cemented himself as the best player in the Inland Empire this season.

What's scary is, he’s only a junior.

Cravens caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the second half against Chaparral, returned an interception for a game-clinching score in the final minutes and caused and recovered a key fumble deep in Vista Murrieta territory in the fourth quarter, lifting the Broncos to a 27-10 victory in the Southwestern League opener at Chaparral High.

“Su’a was definitely in the spotlight tonight,” said Vista Murrieta coach Coley Candaele. “He made plays on offense and defense that allowed us to win this game.”

The Broncos had trouble just getting the ball in their hands during the first half.

They had just three offensive possessions in the first two quarters, with the first two drives ending without a first down.

Cravens sparked the third drive with nice 18-yard reception over the middle. After a 50-yard completion from Nicholas Stevens to Darion Williams, Stevens then found running back Aaron Piecukonis for a 16-yard touchdown pass, tying the score, 7-7, with just under five minutes left in the opening half.

Chaparral booted a 19-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to take a 10-7 lead into halftime, but the Broncos came out throwing to start the second half. The drive was kept alive by a roughing-the-passer penalty on third and 10 inside Vista Murrieta territory. Stevens then hit Cravens on a 14-yard pass on third and seven, and followed up with a 17-yard touchdown strike to Cravens on third and 16.

“It was a post-corner,” Stevens said of the route. “He turned the guy and got to the corner, a real good route.”

The touchdown gave the Broncos a 14-10 lead, but Chaparral mounted its best drive of the second half with about 9 ½ minutes remaining, getting inside the Vista Murrieta 20-yard line before wide receiver Chris Stratton fumbled at the end of a 20-yard reception to the Bronco seven. Once again, Cravens had his hands all over the play.

“We knew it was going to be up to our defense to stop them,” Cravens said. “They ran a slant and [Stratton] broke the tackle, it was a great pass and a great catch, but Bryce [Smith] came in and hit him first and knocked him and I just came in a stripped the ball loose. That was a big play and just turned the momentum backwards.”

The Pumas got the ball back once more with 2:54 left in the game. Facing a fourth and 11 from their own 19, Cravens picked off Chaparral quarterback Matt Morin and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown with 1:24 left.

The Broncos weren’t finished, as Smith intercepted a third pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final play.