Fri, Oct 07 2011 01:52 AM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Last Friday’s non-league football game at Hilltop High School between the host Lancers and visiting El Capitan Vaqueros pitted two of the San Diego Section’s few remaining winless teams.
The Vaqueros entered the contest 0-4 in the win-loss column having lost 11 starters due to injuries, including several to season-ending injuries due to broken bones. The Lancers, meanwhile, had dropped a string of narrow heart-breaking losses: 42-34 to visiting University City on Sept. 2, 10-7 to visiting Patrick Henry on Sept. 9 and 17-10 at Chula Vista on Sept. 16.
While El Capitan head coach Ron Burner could speak of the heroic effort put forth by his under-manned team in the face of adversity, Hilltop sideline boss Cody Roelof could only grimace at the little things — poorly-timed penalties, dropped balls and turnovers — that had kept his team on the losing end of three consecutive contests.
Last Friday’s match-up produced a slideshow of horrors and heroics for both teams — one that ended in a 30-29 verdict for the Lancers when Vaquero kicker Chris Petrille’s 45-yard field goal attempt to win the game with 6.4 seconds left dipped just under the crossbar.
It was obviously an agonizing loss for the injury-riddled visitors. The defending Grossmont Valley League co-champions, who were ranked 20th among section teams to start the season, fell to 0-5.
It was equally agonizing for the host team, which had to watch and pray that the kick fell short.
“A win is a win,” Roelof told his team in its post-game on-field meeting. “You guys fought to the end. I’m so proud of you.”
It was Burner who said in a pregame interview that regardless of what his team was facing, it had the courage to meet it head on. “As long as we can put 11 guys out there, we’re going to battle to the end,” the El Capitan coach said.
Both teams did just that, as the Vaqueros drove into Hilltop territory to set up what appeared to be the winning field goal and erase a spirited Lancer comeback that had netted two fourth quarter touchdowns.
Petrille’s kick was right down the middle of the field and had fans on both sides holding their collective breath as it finally began its downward arc due to gravity.
If the visitors had not fumbled the ball on the previous play, pushing Petrille’s kick back 10 yards, the ending to last Friday’s game might well have been different.
But it wasn’t and Hilltop will hope to capitalize on its newfound momentum when it hosts the streaking Bonita Vista Barons this Friday in a high-stakes non-league Division II match-up.
The Barons (2-2-1) are coming off their second consecutive victory of the season after topping host Scripps Ranch, 14-7, last Friday on a pair of touchdown runs by John Matranga, and are 2-0-1 in their last three games after recording a 28-all tie at Grossmont on Sept. 16.
Hernandez, the Lancers’ all-around star player, accounted for 18 points in the win over the Vaqueros. However, he was quick to pronounce his team’s first win of the season a “team victory.”
“Everyone contributed,” he said. “It feels great. We had chances to win in our other games before this but couldn’t finish. We don’t give up, even if we’re behind by two touchdowns.”
Which is exactly what happened last Friday.
Hernandez opened scoring in the game on a booming 50-yard field goal with 6:14 remaining in the first quarter to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.
The Vaqs struck back on the first play of the second quarter to take a 7-3 led when quarterback Jake Alvernaz hit Josh Murphy in the very corner of the end zone on a 29-yard scoring pass.
Hilltop went back in front, 10-7, on a 40-yard touchdown catch-and-carry by Montel Campbell with 11:12 left in the second quarter.
El Capitan countered to take a 14-10 edge when Alvernaz hooked up with Dillon Rettig on a 27-yard touchdown pass. The Vaquero defense set up the touchdowns when it recovered a muffed punt by the Lancers.
But the hosts came back on a 12-yard TD run by Campbell just 1:29 before halftime to go up 16-14.
After scoring consecutive touchdowns to open the second half, it appeared El Capitan had put itself in position to record its first victory of the season.
Austin Watson scored on a 15-yard run to put the Vaqs back on top 21-16. Alvernaz then scored on a one-yard keeper and tossed a two-point conversion pass to Watson to boost the visitors further ahead, 29-16, with 10:23 to play in the game.
But, somehow, it wasn’t enough.
Hernandez scored on a four-yard run with 8:00 left to close the gap to 29-23. Then, after the hosts got the ball back again on a punt, Hernandez produced what proved to be the game-winning touchdown (and PAT) on a mesmerizing 33-yard scoring run down the Vaqueros’ sideline.
It appeared that the Hilltop quarterback was going to be sacked on the play but he somehow managed to spin and weave his way through a host of El Capitan defenders into the end zone. Hernandez may have been the most surprised player on the field after the play was over.
But the Vaqueros weren’t done.
The visitors received the ball with 3:39 left and, after successfully converting a fourth-down-and-nine play with 1:05 left, had positioned themselves deep in Hilltop territory, needing only a chip shot field goal to escape with a dramatic victory. That is, until fate intervened on the Lancers’ part.
Two incomplete passes set up a third-and-10 play, with Alvernaz in the shotgun position. But the ball whizzed past the El Capitan signal-caller and rolled backward, chased by players from both teams.
A Vaquero finally fell on the football but the line of scrimmage took a U-turn and added nearly a dozen yards to Petrille’s fourth-down field goal attempt.
As the ball fell just short, players, coaches and fans from both teams could both literally and figuratively measure the margin of victory and defeat.
For Hernandez, it did not end in frustration for once. “I had it in me,” he said of both the 50-yard kick and his daring 33-yard sideline jaunt. “It was now or never. I just kept running.”
And the Lancers are no longer running on empty.
Hernandez finished the game 9-of-17 in the passing department for 166 yards while rushing 21 times for 119 yards. Campbell had 18 carries for 50 yards while also making three receptions for 54 yards. Paul Greene led Lancer receivers with four catches for 91 yards.
For the season, Hernandez has completed 42 of 84 passes for 622 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 64 times for 302 yards and three scores. Campbell has rushed 79 times for 403 yards and has scored six touchdowns (five rushing and one receiving). Greene leads Hilltop with 14 receptions for 197 yards while Abraham Gonzalez has 11 catches for 167 yards.
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