CARSON, Calif. - When Crenshaw's rocket ship of a running back De'Anthony Thomas launched for a 43-yard touchdown run on his team's second play of the game, De La Salle didn't panic.
When Thomas scooted around right end for a fourth-down 11-yard TD run on Crenshaw's second series, the Spartans looked concerned but not frantic.
Rather than bicker or banter, De La Salle simply drew from experience.
This, afterall, was a microcosm of its season.
The six-time mythical national champions began the year 1-2 and got spanked badly by the nation's No. 1 team Don Bosco Prep. From that, they eventually regrouped, rallied and won 11 straight heading into the CIF State Open Division title game.
"We just had to remember what got us here," De La Salle senior running back Tyler Anderson.
Said sophomore quarterback Bart Houston: "We had to get the ball in the hands of Terron (Ward) and Tyler (Anderson) and let the line work their magic."
Like their season, the Spartans (13-2) eventually responded, in this case with four unanswered touchdowns, one in each quarter en route to a resounding 28-14 victory before 16,910 fans at the Home Depot Center Saturday night.
Ward rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns, the last one on a 4-yard scamper with 3 minutes, 7 seconds remaining to finish off a 12-play, 85-yard drive and the No. 16 Cougars (14-1), who never recovered from an ankle injury to Thomas late in the second quarter.
It also finished off a season few thought would end here after a nightmarish start. At least by De La Salle standards.
The Spartans also finished off the high school football season nationally - it was the last game played - and after starting the year in the national top 25 rankings, this victory might launch them back in.
"This game was just like our season," said star junior defensive end Dylan Wynn, who had nine tackles, one behind team leader Blake Reynaud, a junior middle linebacker who contributed 10 tackles and an interception that clinched the win. "Coach (Bob Ladouceur) told us that at halftime and that we just need to finish it off like a champion and that's what we did. It feels unbelievable."
The Spartans also got a big game from Anderson, who added 89 yards rushing, an interception and an 5-yard scoring jaunt.
An interception by Renaud clinched the win and finished off a superb defensive effort. The Spartans held Crenshaw, which came in averaging almost 50 points per game, scoreless on its last 10 possessions.
"I felt if we just settled down we would be fine," Ladouceur said. "I was confident we could shut them out in the second half. I put it on our line to get the job done and they did. Ward and Anderson also stepped it up and took over the game."
Ward’s 26-yard TD burst broke a 14-14 tie with 7:46 left in the third quarter. It capped a five-play, 55-yard drive and gave the Spartans their first lead of the game.
"We came out strong, 14-0, and we thought 'OK we got this, they're not as tough as we thought,' " Crenshaw's 1,000-yard rusher Geoffrey Norwood, who was limited to 40 yards on 15 carries. "We let up. They came out, They proved us wrong."
It took exactly two Crenshaw plays for De La Salle to experience the explosive speed of Thomas, who blasted off with a 43-yard touchdown run giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead with 9:54 left in the first.
The Cougars came out in a tight formation - nothing De La Salle had seen on films - and the Spartans didn't have time to adjust. Not with Thomas flying through the seam.
"He's a crazy kind of fast," Ward said. "They were all fast, even their defensive linemen."
Crenshaw’s quickness showed on defense as well, holding De La Salle to just one first down on its first two possessions.
The Cougars and Thomas again made it look easy, going 75 yards in nine plays with Thomas going student body right on 4th-and-5 to score on a 11-yard run.
That made it 14-0 with 3:10 left in the first.
"They did a good job coaching and caught us off guard," De La Salle defensive coordinator Terry Eidson. "We went to our base defense and it worked out very well. Our guys really stepped up."
De La Salle got it going behind Houston, who made two pinpoint completions of 28 yards each,to Anthony Williams and Lucas Shapiro, setting up a 5-yard touchdown run by Anderson, cutting the lead to 14-7 with 15.3 seconds remaining in the first.
The Spartans began to gain control at the point of attack and they tied it up 14-14 late in the first half on a 1-yard touchdown somersault by Ward.
The key play on the drive – and probably the game – happened one play earlier when Anderson broke free up the middle for 40 yards before being corralled by Thomas at the 1.
No one else in the state could have caught Anderson but Thomas, who finished second in the state 200 meters finals in June and sixth in the 100. But Thomas also wrenched his left ankle, the same one that caused him to miss several games earlier in the year.
He was helped off the field and Crenshaw’s quick-strike offense was far less potent.
Asked what kind of influence Thomas' departure had on the game, Ladouceur said: “I think he would have got his yards. He kind of shocked us on a couple of runs. We made a couple of adjustments at halftime to counter him but he didn't show up. It didn't hurt us having him on the sideline. .
“He had a great year. It's hard to solve a kid like that, He's a great talent "
Thomas came in on two plays early in the fourth quarter but only to act as a decoy. The Spartans definitely had taken control by the time Thomas was injured, but clearly the Cougars could have used his vast speed and skills on both sides of the ball.
Crenshaw coach Robert Garrett wouldn't talk about Thomas' injury, but rather said: "We are not winners on the scoreboard but we are winners in our hearts. We will be back."
Indeed they should be.
With both quarterback Marquis Thompson (18 of 30, 178 yards) and Thomas back, the Cougars have a strong duo to build from.
"What we established was we can play with anybody," Garrett said. "it doesn't matter what region you're from. We at Crenshaw High School established something that will continue to go on and on and on and on. We can play with anyone anytime, anywhere and anyplace. We had a fun time, just came up short. No excuses. They beat us on the field, they're a better team, especially tonight. Our efforts were grand, and we'll be back."
De La Salle should be loaded next year even though its most productive running tandem is graduating.
Ward finished with 2,033 rushing yards - just five yards short of the school record - and Anderson had 1,291 yards. The duo combined for 49 touchdowns.
Ward, who said he has yet to receive a Division I offer, is just thrilled to bring home the crown. De La Salle had lost bowl games in 2006 and 2008, but won in 2007.
And now 2009.
"We have worked real hard since January to get back here," he said. "We didn't want to leave here crying again after a loss."
De La Salle 28, Crenshaw 14
De La Salle 7 7 7 7 - 28
Crenshaw 14 0 0 0 - 14
C - Thomas 43 run (Quintanilla kick) 9:54
C - Thomas 11 run (Quintalla kick), 3:10
DLS - Anderson 5 run (Aliano kick), 0:16
DLS - Ward 1 run (Aliano kick), 1:51
DLS - Ward 26 run (Aliano kick), 7:46
DLS - Ward 4 run (Aliano kick), 3:07
DLS: Ward 22-161, Anderson 14-90, Houston 8-3, Team 1-(-1). Crenshaw: Thomas 6-73, Norwood 15-40, Thompson 6-6, Floyd 1-4, Pullard 2-2, Hall 1-1, Ducre 1-1.
DLS: Houston 5-10-0-86. Crenshaw: Thompson 18-30-2-178.
DLS: Walter 2-25, Williams 1-29, Shapiro 1-26, Anderson 1-6. Crenshaw: Docre 6-68, Hall 6-57, Floyd 2-27, Baker 2-22, Pullard 1-8, Norwood 1-(-2).
DLS: Renaud 10, Wynn 9, Ward 7. Crenshaw: Floyd 9, Stovall 8, Doward 8.
First downs: De La Salle 15, Crenshaw 16
Rushing attempts-yards: DLS 45-268, Crenshaw 32-143.
Passing: DLS 5-10-0-86, Crenshaw 18-30-2-178
Turnovers: De La Salle 0, Crenshaw 2.
Penaltiies: DLS 1-15, Crenshaw 1-15
Time of possession: DLS 24:25, Crenshaw 23:35