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Hamilton rides early lead to victory over Eastlake at Brothers in Arms Classic

Photo by Kirt Winter

Hamilton's Derek Andersen closes in on an Eastlake ballcarrier Saturday at the Brothers in Arms Classic.

SAN DIEGO - It sure looked like the 28-0 halftime lead that Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) had built would be plenty enough.

Turns out, that insurance was nearly put to the test.

After a dominant display Saturday in the first half against Eastlake (Chula Vista, Calif.), the heralded Huskies defense showed some cracks in the Brothers in Arms Classic at Cathedral Catholic High. But that halftime lead was large enough to allow the visitors to head back to the Grand Canyon State with a 28-17 triumph.

Photo by Kirt Winter

Hamilton's Kyeler Burke hauls in a catch Saturday.

The No. 13 team in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Football Rankings has a stacked defense loaded with experienced players, and the signature moment for the unit came in the final seconds of the third quarter. Eastlake was threatening to score its first touchdown of the contest and had four chances from about a yard away to get the ball in the end zone.

See the Qwixcore game log for this game

The Titans never got there.

A swarm of five (maybe even six or seven) Huskies led by Santana Sterling collaborated on a gang tackle to stuff the scoring chance. Through three quarters, the unit only yielded a 33-yard field goal by Aeden Johnson, but 14 more points in the fourth quarter for Eastlake dampened the enthusiasm.

"With how good our defense is, there's no way we should give up 17 points. Us giving up 17, that's unacceptable," said star defensive end Qualen Cunningham. "We definitely came out stronger in the first half. We always had it in check, though. I thought we regulated the game the way we wanted it to be played."

The offense did its part in a second-quarter explosion that saw Hamilton post three touchdowns. After Tyrell Smith's five-yard touchdown in the first quarter, Sam Sasso found Elijah Williams for a four-yard slant good for a touchdown with 6:35 left in the first half. A little less than four minutes later, Sasso found Chad Nelson on a post pattern from 10 yards away for another touchdown and then the defense came up huge with 39 seconds left when Michael Ureel forced a fumble on a sack and Garrett Rand pounced on the ball at the 12-yard line. On the next play, Williams scored his second touchdown by taking a reverse to the end zone.

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That offensive success ended up being the cushion the Huskies needed. Hamilton coach Steve Belles said the entire team - not just the defense - regressed in the second half.

Photo by Kirt Winter

Eastlake's Isiah Olave hauls in an interception.

"We didn't play well in the second half. But we did get a big-enough lead to hold on to win," he said.

Eastlake's resurgence came thanks to a 35-yard passing touchdown from Zachary Lawler to Isiah Olave, which saw Olave catch a short pass and jet down the sideline past all potential tacklers with 9:29 left in the game. Isaiah Strayhorn tallied Eastlake's other touchdown with a 19-yard scoring run that featured some very nifty footwork to stay up.

Belles and the Huskies could have started to panic. But having that defense - and that insurance - assuaged any worries for the team that has played in the state title game in each of the past five seasons.

"It's a senior-laden group that's been around, been through some stuff. They knew what to do," he said. "Encouragement only goes so far. You've got to go out there and make some plays. We made some at the end but in crucial sitruaitons (Eastlake) kept drives alive."

Eastlake tallied 172 yards on the night, and Hamilton rolled up 383.

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