NORWALK, Calif. --
It's certainly tempting to look ahead, with a third state title matchup between Centennial (Corona, Calif.)
and De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
coming up in a week.
But that would put Saturday night's Open Division Southern California Regional Bowl Championship thriller in the rear-view mirror far too soon, one that saw Centennial escape Cerritos College with a 41-34 triumph over Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.)
An instant classic? Maybe that's too strong a term.
Regardless of what it should be called, Saturday's contest ranks up there with some of the state's best big games this season.
"Definitely it was one of the greatest games I've ever been a part of," Narbonne coach Manuel Douglas said.
The Narbonne side of the stadium went nuts with 1:09 left when Narbonne receiver A.J. Richardson
lined up at quarterback, corralled a nearly-bungled direct snap and raced for the corner, scoring a 3-yard touchdown that tied the contest at 34. It was the culmination of a three-minute, 65-yard drive, it was redemption for Richardson after he missed a certain touchdown catch two plays earlier, and most importantly, it was the exclamation point tacked onto a furious second-half comeback that saw the Gauchos erase a 19-point halftime deficit.
Then the Centennial side went berserk 47 seconds later when Huskies quarterback Robert Webber
recognized a blitz and lofted a 14-yard scoring pass to wide open running back Tre Watson
, who ran a modified wheel route in the right flat.See the Qwixcore game log
That was the winning score, and it capped off a second-straight contest that saw Centennial hold off a charging opponent in the final seconds to advance in the state playoffs.
"The backer came after me and I just had to dump it off to (Watson). I had pressure so I had to get rid of it early," said Webber, who finished 20-for-39 with 306 yards and four touchdowns.
"It was zero mirror, tag to me. They weren't expecting it. I was so surprised how open I was," said Watson, who also scored a 20-yard touchdown in the first half.After winning the Southern Section's Inland Division title
with a defensive stop on a 2-point conversion in the final 80 seconds last week, the Huskies earned another cardiac-inducing victory. Saturday's victory reignites the DLS-Centennial rivalry that developed when the teams split the 2007 and '08 Division I State Bowl contests. It's definitely going to the be marquee game at the Home Depot Center in Carson this coming weekend.
Centennial coach Matt Logan asked if he could revel in his Regional Bowl victory for a few hours, but he knows how significant the matchup is, and how reporters couldn't help but ask about the rubber match with the Spartans.
"De La Salle already, huh? We know what they bring to the table, so we will just come to work the best we can. It's the pinnacle of high school football," Logan said, adding that he knows what to expect. "They do what they do, but they execute."
De La Salle won 37-31 in 2007 but the Huskies got revenge the next season with a 21-16 win. Logan also led the 2010 team to the D-I game, falling to Palo Alto, 15-13.
Getting back to Saturday's win, the first half was all Centennial and it looked like a blowout was in the works, orchestrated by the diminutive Webber and his cast of hefty linemen and quick skill players. A 4-yard score on fourth-and-2 from Austin Renken
started the scoring and Watson's rushing score made it 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. Webber found Barry Ware
for a 13-yard scoring strike with 5:01 left in the first half to make it 20-0.
Narbonne's Troy Williams
found Jon'tae Roberson
for a 23-yard scoring pass with 3:01 left to narrow it to 20-8 but Webber answered back with a 17-yard strike to Ware on a skinny post in the final minute to make it 27-8 at the half.
Then the Gauchos got their defense in order, and Williams started making spectacular plays like the Washington commit usually makes. A Huskies fumble at the 2-yard line gave the Gauchos the ball and Williams showcased a 31-yard scramble as part of a 98-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 12-yard pass to Richardson. Centennial missed a field goal and Williams went back to work, finishing a nine-play drive with runs of 18 and 27 yards to narrow the score to 27-22.
Webber found Ryan Pascarella
for a 16-yard score on a skinny post with 9:48 left in the game to make it 34-22, and the Huskies got another boost when they stopped a run on fourth-and-inches from their own 23. But they punted and Williams made them pay, scrambling and finding Roberson all alone in the end zone for a 14-yard score that made it 34-28.
Richardson's score came next, and then Watson's game-winner.
For Narbonne, the Los Angeles City Section Division I champion, the No. 9 team in the
and No. 2 team in the Freeman Rankings
, there wasn't any shame in dropping the game, Douglas said.
"We coached our tails off and played our tails off. In the second half we could have laid down and died and quit, but those kids showed a lot of heart and character. I am unbelievably proud of everyone in our program and I told them if you (fought back), that at the end of the night you could look at the scoreboard and feel proud," he said. "I didn't promise that we could win, but if you do that at the end of the night you'll be OK and you'll live with it.
"We tied the game with a minute left. It's disappointing and they did everything they could. I can't ask for anything else. It was rarefied air for us to be here and I hope we can continue to be in this kind of company each year."
One item of concern for Centennial is the health of stellar starting left tackle and Cal commit Cameron Hunt
, who exited the game due to cramps and later had to receive attention from paramedics. It was his 44th-straight start, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise
. Writhing in pain on the sideline, Hunt's plight caused a brief stoppage in play as he was attended to. Also, Webber limped for part of the game after being tackled awkwardly.
"It was a wild night. I'm just happy we overcame. The kids have been resilient all year. I couldn't be more proud of them," Logan said. "They started pinching everything inside and they knew Robert was banged up, so we had to go to the air to win the game is what we felt."
Many coaches have expressed concern about the Regional Bowl system and how it adds another game to an already-taxing season. Logan was one of them, but he's starting to feel otherwise.
"I wasn't a big fan when it came out but this week I felt like we were in Texas, with an actual state playoff. All week long we felt this was a state playoff, you win and advance, and we thought that was neat."
For Centennial, Renken rushed 18 times for 107 yards, Webber ran nine times for 73 yards and Chase Krivashei
caught five passes for 135 yards.
Pascarella caught seven balls for 99 yards. The Huskies came in No. 12 in the Freeman Rankings and No. 24 in the Xcellent 25.
Williams completed 28 of his 38 attempts for 356 yards for Narbonne and rushed 12 times for 104 yards. Roberson caught seven passes for 135 yards and Richardson hauled in nine grabs for 108 yards.
Centennial held a 17-6 advantage for first downs in the first half but in the second half, Narbonne netted 15 compared to 10 for the Huskies.
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