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PREP FOOTBALL: Cravens stars on both sides of ball in Vista Murrieta's win over Chaparral

03/04/2013, 2:52pm PST
By By JEFF SANDERS jsanders@californian.com

TEMECULA — More than a dozen colleges are recruiting

TEMECULA — More than a dozen colleges are recruiting Su'a Cravens as a defender. The one that has Vista Murrieta's star linebacker pegged as an offensive weapon — USC — may be on to something.

Then again, maybe they all are.

Cravens caught a go-ahead touchdown pass, recovered a late fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown as Vista Murrieta overcame a sluggish start in a 27-10 victory over Chaparral on Friday night in the Southwestern League opener.

"Big games ask for big performances by your best athletes, and Su'a was definitely in the spotlight tonight," Vista Murrieta coach Coley Candaele said. "He made plays on offense and defense that allowed us to win the football game.

"In big games, you give the ball to your best football player, and that was the whole game plan."

A good one, too. Especially when the Broncos (6-0, 1-0) finally pried the ball away from the Pumas (2-4, 0-1).

Behind strong running from quarterback Matt Morin (27 carries, 109 yards), Chaparral held the ball for 20 minutes, 10 seconds in the first half. The Pumas struck the first blow of the game on a 9-yard touchdown run from Morin that staked his team to a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter before Vista Murrieta had even collected a first down.

That's when Candaele inserted Cravens and Darion Williams into the game on offense for the first time.

Cravens promptly caught an 18-yard pass from Nick Stevens on a slant for the team's initial first down. After a 50-yard heave to Williams, Stevens found Aaron Piecukonis for a 16-yard touchdown swing pass that saw Cravens take a pair of defenders with him across the middle and out of Piecukonis' route.

Just like that — a quick two-minute drive — the Broncos were on the board. 

"I thought our defense played awesome," Chaparral coach Ryan Tukua said. "Obviously, they have some special guys in Su'a and Darion, and those guys had some pretty awesome plays tonight."

Cravens, for one, was just getting started, too.

Trailing 10-7 to start the second half, he hauled in a 17-yard scoring pass to cap a clock-gutting, 14-play, 80-yard march. Then, in the fourth quarter, with Chaparral marching toward a go-ahead score, he and middle linebacker Bryce Smith jarred the ball away from Chris Stratton at the Broncos' 6 at the end of a 21-yard catch-and-run strike from Morin.

Cravens, naturally, recovered the loose ball.

"We knew it was going to be up to our defense to stop them," Cravens said. "They ran a slant and broke a tackle, and it was a great pass and a great catch. But Bryce came in and hit him first and I came in and stripped the ball. That was a big play."

Cravens, though, saved the biggest for last, stepping in front of Morin's fourth-and-6 pass and taking it 30 yards the other way for a 21-10 lead with 1:24 left in the game. Smith then added one more pick-six as time expired, sending the Broncos to their second straight win over the Pumas since falling to Chaparral in the 2009 CIF Southern Section Inland Division title game.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game; it wasn't going to be like last year at all," Cravens said of last year's 45-17 win over the Pumas . "Chaparral came out fast and we have a young offense. Chaparral came out pounding the ball and we had to adjust at the half."

Cravens made it easier. He caught five passes for a team-high 63 yards and carried it three times for 15 yards. With USC offering him as an offensive player recently , he's certainly giving his dual identity more and more thought as the year progresses.

"That's my first offensive offer," said Cravens, who said he's up to 17 offers. "That was a surprise to me. I thought they were recruiting me as a defensive player.

"That's something to think about."

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