If that miserable search for offensive identity didn’t end for Edison High football coach Matt Johnson on Friday night, it unmistakably found considerable improvement.
And to think it happened on the home field of an unbeaten team.
It all began with Gerard Mendez, as the sophomore transfer from Sunnyside – eligible for the first time this week – not only passed for 214 yards and a touchdown, but commanded the offense with authority as the 17th-ranked Tigers defeated No. 13 Memorial 19-7 in a County/Metro Athletic Conference opener.
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“We found a little something and we found Gerard,” Johnson said after Mendez completed 15 of 22 attempts. “He made some mistakes but he looked good doing it. I thought he controlled himself; I thought the game wasn’t too big for him, as a youngster. He has savvy and he’s going to make an impact, no doubt about it.”
Mendez started for Sunnyside as a freshman. This season, he had to serve the California Interscholastic Federation-mandated 30-day sit-out transfer rule before playing a game. He has been practicing all along.
“It was hard not playing,” he said, “but I worked hard to stay positive. And I told my teammates, ‘Keep positive, we’re good, there’s nothing to worry about.’ And (Friday), I said, ‘Let’s go get a W.’ ”
How important was it against 5-0 Memorial?
“A win is a win and, God, we needed this one right now,” Johnson said.
It was hard not playing, but I worked hard to stay positive.
Sophomore quarterback Gerard Mendez after leading Edison past Memorial in his first game with the Tigers
Simply, Edison got mean after arriving 1-4 and with six touchdowns total in nonleague play – this, a season after going 12-2 and winning the program’s first Central Section top division title in 39 years.
The Tigers occasionally inserted 265-pound lineman Alim Shabazz into the backfield as a lead blocker.
In the end, they even had him and 275-pound lineman Leevel Tatum combine for three consecutive carries.
The beef aside, Edison’s rushing success was about LaRue Temple. The senior, prohibited from playing the past two seasons because of academic ineligibility, displayed speed and electrifying open-field moves and vision while rushing for 185 yards on 21 carries.
“LaRue was fabulous,” Johnson said of the 5-foot-7, 170-pounder. “He has a low center of gravity, a powerful guy. And he’s not just a ‘4-yard Freddie.’ ”
Edison, which will visit No. 12 Sanger (5-1, 1-0) on Friday, Oct. 16, also received 42 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only five carries from Jaylen King.
Making it all go up front were tackles Jalen Vaughn and Miguel Marquez, guards Ian Sherrell and Quentin Goss and center Andrew Quinonez.
The Tigers’ defense was led by Tatum and Shabazz, linebacker Jake Hanson and deep backs DeAndre Lockhart, Deshawn Tillman and David Tate.
Memorial junior Michael Alvarez, rarely able to set his feet without being pressured, completed 5 of 17 passes for 98 yards.
The Panthers felt the absence of top running back Demarcus Wilson, a junior out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
They will have homecoming against No. 20 Madera (4-1, 0-1) on Friday, Oct. 16.