UPLAND — For one of the rare occasions, two Southern Section defending champions went head-to-head Friday night in the Inland Division playoffs and both Upland and Temecula Chaparral played as if they had something to lose.
In the end, injuries caught up with Chaparral, allowing the Highlanders to rally from an early deficit and win, 40-35, at Upland High.
Upland running back Donta Abron Jr. rushed for 176 yards in 18 carries and scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score early in the third quarter that gave the Highlanders a 30-28 lead they never relinquished.
Upland kicker Jake Van Ginkel kicked four field goals, including a 38-yarder that gave the Highlanders their final five-point cushion with 1:10 remaining, and receiver Kenneth Lawler caught five passes for 164 yards and a 73-yard score in the opening quarter.
The Highlanders, who won the Central Division title last season and was then moved to the Inland Division this season, had to claw back right from the start. On the first play from scrimmage, Chaparral linebacker Josh Ponder returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown.
The teams continued to trade touchdowns in the first quarter before Chaparral kicker Cole Perkins scored on a 29-yard run off a fake field goal, then defensive lineman Johnny Talian returned a second interception four yards for a touchdown, giving the Pumas a 28-17 lead midway through the second quarter.
Chaparral (4-7) attempted a fake punt shortly before halftime, but came up short, setting up a 20-yard field goal by Van Ginkel to cut the deficit to five at the half.
Chaparral standout receiver Antoine Arnold had his best game of the season, catching 12 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, including a 19-yard touchdown catch with 3:56 remaining that cut the Upland lead to 37-35.
Nick Perez of Upland recovered the ensuing onside kick and Van Ginkel followed with his fourth field goal.
Arnold was not able to participate in the final series because of cramps. The Pumas also lost San Diego State-bound running back/defensive back Darius Guillory because of an apparent concussion in the second quarter.