Cypress hands rival Kennedy a loss to win Empire League Championship

Nathaniel Woods hauls in a pass before getting wrapped up by a Cypress defender.

Cypress High’s football team closed out its season with a 31-8 win over Kennedy High on Thursday at Handel Stadium. The win secured an Empire League Championship for the Centurions for the second year in a row.

The Cypress defense was able to keep the Fighting Irish off the scoreboard until the final minutes of the game. Kennedy threatened at times, including a drive inside the 10 yard line, but ended with a turnover on downs when the Centurion defense held.

Other promising drives also stalled, sometimes with Kennedy penalties assisting, but also on several sacks that pushed Kennedy into long yardage holes. Cypress coach Rick Feldman praised he defense, which had a lot of young players after graduating a host of seniors from last year. He noted that defensive coordinator Jeff Crooks did a great job bringing the young group along.

“They just picked up where we left off last year, they played fast all year long, made plays all year long,” Feldman said.

The Cypress offense was also led by a host of underclassmen, including junior quarterback Dylan Eldridge and sophomore receiver Matthew Morrell, who made for a dangerous combo this season. Against Kennedy Eldridge threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those touchdowns going to Morrell. Morrell finished the night with 207 yards in receptions.

Cypress began to pull away in the second quarter. Kennedy had moved the ball to midfield, but a false start penalty and a sack by the Cypress defense shut down the drive.
After a short punt, the Centurions struck quickly. They ran flea-flicker play that had Morrell alone behind the defense, Eldridge connected with him for a 58-yard touchdown that pushed the Centurions lead to 21-0. Prior to the Kennedy possession, Eldridge and Morrell connected on a pass that put the ball at the 10 yard line. Tomas Ramirez followed that with a sweep to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.

Cypress shares the league title with Pacifica and Tustin, as all three finished 4-1 on the shortened season. Cypress won the league outright last year. They were 3-0 before getting tripped up by Pacifica, 26-21, on April 8. But the Centurions are happy with the way the season played out.

“It feels great to win league for the second year in a row,” Feldman said.
Feldman admitted that with all the changes and interruptions, he was unsure how sharp his players would be. Teams originally were cleared to begin practice in late 2020, with the idea of starting a season in January. That was scrapped as the lockdown returned for another two months. Given all that, Feldman was impressed with how well the team did. He credited his staff with putting the players in a position to succeed.

“They just really stepped up and played hard all year, it was exciting to see,” Feldman said.
Kennedy was able to get on the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter on a pass from Kaos Devinney to AJ Frieson for a touchdown. Starting quarterback Alex Herrera left the game after, what appeared to be a shoulder injury after a hard collision on a run. The fighting Irish went 1-4 this season with their win coming on a 39-36 victory over Crean Lutheran.