Thu, Dec 02 2010 02:51 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
While SDSU versus Navy may sell 50,000 tickets to the upcoming Poinsettia Bowl, fans had a chance last Friday to purchase the hot ticket to this year’s South County high school “Metro Bowl” match-up at Eastlake’s Stan Canaris Stadium as the host Titans took on the east side rival Otay Ranch Mustangs in a San Diego Section Division I quarterfinal round playoff game.
The result was a standing room only crowd and a narrow 21-17 Eastlake victory.
“CIF had this game mis-seeded,” EHS coach John McFadden said matter-of-factly after the thrill-a-minute contest finally concluded. “These two teams should have met in the semifinals.”
In fact, the contest was worthy of a division championship game.
The top-seeded Titans improved to 11-0 with the hard-fought victory while the ninth-seeded Mustangs (7-5) ended a fine first season under new head coach Anthony Lacsina.
Eastlake was scheduled to host fourth-seeded Mira Mesa (6-5) in Thursday’s semifinals, with the winner advancing to Monday’s division title game at Qualcomm Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
The Eastlake-Mira Mesa winner will meet either second-seeded Torrey Pines (10-1) or third-seeded Vista (10-1) in Monday’s championship tilt.
“It will be interesting to see which teams make it to the stadium because we felt we had a good shot in the playoffs,” said Lacsina, whose team twice pulled to within four points of the Titans in last Friday’s east side gridiron battle. “At the beginning of the season, I said that we were going to surprise people. We were peaking at the right time and felt we could have won this game. But they made the plays to beat us.”
“They did a great job and I commend their coaches and kids for showing a lot of class and fighting all the way through,” McFadden said. “It was a great war. They were a much better team than being seeded No. 9. I give them all the credit. It was a lot of fun. Going to the semis is a huge honor.”
Lacsina couldn’t have asked any more from his team.
The Mustangs, who came into last Friday’s playoff match-up with five wins in their last six games following a 2-3 start to the season, had the ball for the final drive of the game, though starting from their own three-yard line after forcing a change of possession on downs. Otay Ranch advanced the ball about a third of the way down the field and it looked as if the visitors might somehow pull off a magical finish in the final 1:14 of an already exciting, emotionally-draining contest.
But the EHS defense — specifically Blake Wilson — rose to the occasion with three sacks on the Mustangs’ final four plays. Jordan Hines batted down a Marcus Hernandez floater thrown while on the run at midfield to end Otay Ranch’s season.
Hernandez’ counterpart behind center, Josh Palet, then took a knee and a huge sigh of relief issued from the Titan sideline to underlie screams of jubilation by Eastlake fans.
It all boiled down, McFadden said, to his team finding yet another way to win a ballgame.
The Titans entered Thursday’s semifinal game with a 22-game winning streak and a 24-game unbeaten streak (22-0-4) over the past two seasons.
Eastlake, known for its punishing running attack, finished the game with two passing touchdowns. Otay Ranch matched that with two Hernandez aerials that also found their way into the end zone.
The Titans led 14-3 at halftime as Chris Fletcher scored on a 16-yard run (diving past the pylon to add some theatrics to the end of the play) and Hines caught a 39-yard scoring pass from Palet. Billie Bechtel’s 37-yard field goal was sandwiched between the two EHS scores.
The Mustangs left everything out on the field in the second half, out-scoring the hosts 14-7.
Hernandez passed nine yards to Marques Roberts to shave the Eastlake lead to 14-10,thereby stirring up the vocal chords from the visitors’ fans on a bone-chilling night.
The Titans looked to pull away when Palet quickly aired out a 74-yard scoring pass to Hines. But Otay Ranch was not finished as Hernandez fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ernie Hicks in the fourth quarter.
Eastlake appeared to be driving for the score that would finally put the game out of reach but sputtered to give the visitors one last ray of hope.
But it’s said that defense wins championships, and the Titans made a statement when it mattered most.
Zach Bannon had an interception in the first half and Jude Isbell caused a fumble that was recovered by teammate Fernando Cabico in the second half to short-circuit Otay Ranch scoring drives.
“We had seven dropped balls in the first half,” Lacsina said. “We could have been leading at halftime.”
Otay Ranch fans lingered on the sideline long after the final whistle had sounded to savor the season.
Titan players simply had to savor the win, as close as it might have been.
“Otay was a tough team,” said Isbell, who entered Thursday’s semifinal game with 1,246 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. “We had to run the ball really hard against them. We made a couple of errors at the end and made a lot of penalties (but) in the end, we came out with the victory.”
“They had nothing to lose,” sophomore Aaron Baltazar said. “We had to fight. It was a war. We had a lot of turnovers but our defense stepped up at the end and came away with the victory.”
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