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Football St. Anthony

Football: St. Anthony Crushes La Salle for Homecoming Win

The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation.

If St. Anthony could have scripted Friday night’s Homecoming Game against La Salle, there probably wouldn’t have been many edits. Just about everything went right for the home team as they cruised to a 53-14 win in front of an overflow crowd at the newly renovated Clark Field.

“The last two weeks, we’ve been telling (the team) how we can’t take anything for granted,” said Saints head coach Raul Lara after the win. “Let’s work up and build up for the playoffs. So obviously they came out and they executed the way I wanted them to execute … I’m really pleased. I still think we have some areas to work on if we want to win a championship, but we have the bye next week and we’ll work on those areas.”

The Saints made big plays on both sides of the ball, but the offense again went through their powerful running game. Junior JoJo Apisala ran it 10 times for 71 yards and 3 TDs, while senior Elijah Lolesio-Pua added 72 yards on 10 carries and another score.

Apisala said he loves having an offensive line that routinely opens up holes for whoever is carrying the rock.

“It’s great,” Apisala said. “They’re some of the hardest workers I’ve seen. In practice they run even though they don’t really like running, I see all of them in the morning lifting. They’re hard workers and I’m proud of each and every one of them.”

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Coach Lara turned over play calling for this game to assistant coach Rudy Cambero, offering him some experience as a coordinator. Lara said Cambero did an excellent job in handling the offense, which started with the ground attack.

The Saints needed just three run plays to open the scoring 66 seconds into the game. Apisala gained 33 yards (and earned a facemask penalty) setting up a 20-yard TD scamper for Lolesio-Pua. After a successful onside kick, St. Anthony tacked on another score as Apisala ran it in this time.

Then it was the St. Anthony defense that stepped in to make plays. Sawyer Smalley had an interception fall to him off a deflection, which he returned for a TD that was called back due to penalty. The Pick-6 would eventually come for the Saints, as linebacker Raymond Gomez picked off a pass and rumbled for a 25-yard TD to make it 22-0.

The points came fast and furious for the rest of the second quarter, with QB Adrian Perez linking up with Andres Mendoza on a tipped pass for a TD. After a safety, the Saints quickly drove and scored again with Apisala running one in from seven yards out.

St. Anthony capped the scoring in the first half with a special teams TD, as Remy Doering had a shanked punt go right to him, and he raced untouched for 28 yards and a score. It was 46-0 St. Anthony at halftime after the Saints scored 32 points in just over six minutes of game time.

St. Anthony led 53-0 in the third quarter on Apisala’s third TD run of the night, before the visitors scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to break up the shutout.

The win locked up a perfect 5-0 record in Del Rey League play, as the Saints earned their first outright league title since 2017.

“What we were really trying to do is break that generational curse that was going off for a little bit, but also we’re trying to get ready for playoffs,” said Apisala. “We’ve been putting the work in morning and night, and we just came out here and did what we needed to do.”

With hundreds of alumni returning to Clark Field for a pregame reception, along with the usual Homecoming festivities at halftime, it was a special night for the St. Anthony program. The team has produced 8 wins and counting in their first season at the newly renovated facility, and the process is going well for Lara and Co.–though business is far from complete.

“We are pleased where we’re at right now, but obviously you know me, we’re not where I want us to be at,” Lara said. “I know this program is getting a lot better, I can see it and a lot of people are getting excited about it. I think we’ve got something really good here where kids can really benefit and not only become great football players, but great citizens and great students.”

Friday night was a celebration for Saints of all generations. The pregame coin toss featured notable former Saints Mike Curran (’64) and B.I. Mais (’49).

This year’s Saints will get a bye week next Friday to fine-tune for the CIF playoffs. The last time St. Anthony went to the playoffs was Lara’s first year as head coach, when they reached the 2021 Division 10 CIF-SS championship game.

VIDEO: St. Anthony vs. La Salle, Football
Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.