Inland Division: No. 4 Vista Murrieta 39, No. 5 Upland 18

MURRIETA—Vista Murrieta had something to prove Friday night, and they responded in every phase of the game.

The Broncos scored on offense, defense and special teams to run away from second-seeded Upland, 39-18, in an Inland Division semifinal at Vista Murrieta High.

With the victory, Vista Murrieta advanced to its third consecutive section final and will host top-seeded Corona Centennial in the championship game Friday night.

“Right now, we’re rolling,” said Vista Murrieta junior Su’a Cravens. “My team is real focused right now.”

The third-seeded Broncos jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the game’s first eight minutes. Cody Piecukonis caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Stevens on Vista Murrieta’s first series, then Piecukonis returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown.

“A lot of daylight,” Piecukonis said of the punt return. “I just followed my blocks.”

Vista Murrieta coach Coley Candaele said the early lead had its advantages and disadvantages.

“It gave us a false sense of security,” he said. “But we’ll also take 14 points any time we can get them against a great team like Upland.”

Upland (12-1) trimmed the lead to 14-12 at the half following a turnover by the Broncos. The Highlanders scored on a 31-yard touchdown reception by Kenny Lawler, who out-jumped the Vista Murrieta defensive back inside the 5-yard line and stepped into the end zone.

“When we turned the ball over right before halftime, I thought that let them back in,” Candaele said.

Vista Murrieta responded by scoring on the opening drive of the second half, running the ball 10 times before scoring on a one-yard plunge by Stevens.

The Broncos continued to pressure Upland quarterback Nick Romine in the third quarter--Cravens had four sacks in the game--then moved ahead, 28-12, on a 33-yard touchdown run by Aaron Piecukonis on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Upland cut into the deficit once more on a one-yard run by Romine, but the Broncos answered with a 30-yard field goal and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Darion Williams.

“In games like this, when you have two good football teams, you’ve got to do everything right,” said Upland coach Tim Salter. “Not only play good defense and offense, but you’ve got to play great on special teams and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Upland running back Donta Abron, Jr. said the Broncos were simply the better team.

“We came out and fought, but they just played hard, harder than we did,” he said.