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Constant Adversity Hasn’t Stopped El Dorado’s CIF Football Title Run

Constant Adversity Hasn’t Stopped El Dorado’s CIF Football Title Run

El Dorado High School junior running back J.P. Murray (24) runs with the ball at a recent football game. (Courtesy of El Dorado High School)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

11/21/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

El Dorado High School’s football season began in ominous fashion when standout senior running back Isaiah Quintero suffered a broken fibula early in the team’s opening game.
The outlook for the Golden Hawks of Placentia, California, did not brighten when, by Coach Zack LaMonda’s recollection, injuries struck down “five or six” more starters over “the first four or five” games.
Then last week, near the very end of practice two days before a CIF Southern Section Division 7 semifinal matchup against Martin Luther King of Riverside, junior linebacker Blake Vinson, one of the team’s top tacklers, went down with a broken foot.
The odds were as stacked as ever against El Dorado when King carried a 13-point lead into the latter stages of the fourth quarter Nov. 17 at Valencia High in Placentia.
How is it, then, that Mr. LaMonda’s team managed to “screw up everyone’s Thanksgiving” by rallying for an improbable 30-29, double-overtime victory that landed the Golden Hawks a 7 p.m. Nov. 25 championship-game date opposite Mayfair of Lakewood at Valencia?
“It was a crazy game. I’m in shock,” senior quarterback Nate Bento told The Epoch Times after engineering two touchdown drives in the final eight minutes of regulation and two more in overtime.
Perhaps the only certainty was that no one was complaining about having to juggle Thanksgiving Day plans to accommodate a holiday football practice.
Quintero, in his fourth game since returning to action, scored the game-tying touchdown on a 23-yard run with 24.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter, after Bento had audibled away from a designed passing play. Quintero then added what proved to be the game-winner on a 2-yard touchdown plunge during the second overtime session.
Still, El Dorado needed a partially blocked extra-point attempt from senior Tanner Fronaberger to secure the victory and raise its record to 8-5. Fronaberger got just enough of his hand on the King conversion attempt that the football fluttered against the crossbar and caromed away, eliciting pandemonium among the Golden Hawks and a stinging combination of disbelief and despair for the Wolves. “Those last few seconds were a blur,” Mr. LaMonda told reporters after the game. “All I saw was the ball traveling up, and once I saw it hit the crossbar, I scanned the field for a yellow [penalty] flag. I watched the [officials] signal, ‘No good,’ and celebrated. I’m still in shock.”
It fell to Quintero, a diminutive scatback who finished with an even 100 yards rushing, to make sense of the craziness that included El Dorado having a potential game-winning extra-point attempt blocked after his first touchdown jaunt.
“Our team is very gritty,” Quintero told The Epoch Times. “We’re not the biggest guys. We aren’t the fastest, tallest, most athletic guys, but we get the job done. We work as a team. Special plays happen because we’re such a gritty team.”
No one embodied that commitment to the cause more than Quintero, a standout wrestler with a CIF state championship on his resume who responded to his ill-timed injury by becoming a sort of unofficial assistant coach.
“When he had surgery and he was out, he was on the iPad on the sideline coaching J.P. Murray,” Mr. LaMonda said, referencing the junior running back who has become the “thunder” to Quintero’s “lightning” in the two-pronged Golden Hawks ground attack.
Other than the day he underwent surgery and the following day, when Mr. LaMonda made him stay home, Quintero attended every practice.
Isaiah Quintero (36) at a recent football game. (Courtesy of El Dorado High School)

Isaiah Quintero (36) at a recent football game. (Courtesy of El Dorado High School)

“Forget how great of an athlete he is,” Mr. LaMonda said. “His wrestling speaks for itself. He’s just a great human being. His family raised him right. He’s got a great family, a great support system. That kid always has a smile. He inspires a lot of people.”
Assisting Murray helped Quintero “find joy” when he couldn’t play.
“As soon as I got hurt, it was more of a mental game for me, just knowing that I’m going to do everything I can to get back on this field and play one last time with my boys,” Quintero said. “Those first couple of days, the doctor said I needed surgery, and I wasn’t going to be able to play again. It was more just trying to find the good in all of it. The good was helping J.P. Murray, watching film with him, just really coaching him up. It pushed me to come back even faster, to be out there with my guys one more time.”
Vinson responded to his untimely injury in the same manner.
He spent the two days leading up to last week’s game in meetings with defensive coaches and fellow linebackers, including leading tackler Mac Wolf and sophomore Cooper Larson, who capably stepped in for Vinson.
“Blake was there on the sideline, coaching them up,” Mr. LaMonda said. “That’s just a testament to who these kids are.”
After all the adversity, El Dorado is oh-so-close to winning a CIF Southern Section championship for the first time since 2007.
“We just have one more game, one more to win,” said Bento, whose 14-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Nathan Meek ignited last week’s comeback.
Bento also ran 8 yards for a score in the first overtime, after King had taken yet another lead.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs for us, but I believed in us the entire time,” Bento said. “I knew that if we made it in the playoffs, we’d have a shot. I believe in this team more than anything else in the world.”
Senior quarterback Nate Bento (No. 12) at a recent football game. (Courtesy of El Dorado High School)

Senior quarterback Nate Bento (No. 12) at a recent football game. (Courtesy of El Dorado High School)

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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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