UPLAND—Upland took a lot tougher road to its Baseline League showdown Friday night against visiting Rancho Cucamonga.
The Highlanders took on Loyola, Serrano and Tustin -- programs that are just as used to winning as themselves.
The experience seemed to pay off against the Cougars, as Upland played well in every facet of the game and came away with a 31-17 victory in a match up of unbeaten teams.
“The schedule paid off,” said Upland wide receiver Kenny Lawler, who caught a 65-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter to help his team maintain a 14-point lead.
The Highlanders (7-0, 2-0) took a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter and never lost their edge.
The Cougars (6-1, 1-1) appeared on the verge of tying the score with just under four minutes remaining in the first half, but they botched a hand off at the Upland four-yard line and linebacker Bennie Robinson recovered for the Highlanders.
Upland regained its two-score advantage, 17-7, on a 46-yard field goal by Sean Aspinall as the first half expired.
Rancho Cucamonga won the coin flip before the start of the game, but elected to receive the second-half kick off. The Cougars produced a field goal on that drive to cut the deficit to seven, but Upland answered with the 65-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nate Romine to Lawler, a 6-foot-3 senior who has committed to Arizona State, stretching the lead back to 24-10.
“That big pass play for the touchdown in the second half gave us that separation,” said Upland coach Tim Salter.
Rancho Cucamonga didn’t roll over, however. The Cougars answered once more on a 17-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dimitri Morales with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter, cutting the lead back to seven.
On the ensuing drive, the Cougars committed a costly off-sides penalty on fourth and four at their 32. The Highlanders then cashed in early in the fourth quarter on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Romine to tight end Anthony Romero on a well-designed play-action play.
“It’s called a cut pass,” Romine said. “We’ve used it every year in the past as a trick play and it has worked great for us.”
Upland running back Donta Abron then did the rest, rambling for 51 of his game-high 153 yards rushing in the final quarter.
“We’ve been in a lot of battles this year against a lot of good teams and I think that really helped us here,” Salter said. “We have a good mix between the run and the pass and the defense played really well.”