On a cool, chilly autumn night, the cosmos aligned for the Sweetwater High School football team as the Red Devils defeated the previously undefeated Hilltop Lancers last Friday at National City’s Gail Devers Stadium on Hudgins Field.
Sweetwater’s 17-9 non-league victory was as heroic as it was inspirational, serving to cap a perfect evening for the hosts and their fans after the school had unveiled its new synthetic playing field during gala dedication ceremonies just hours earlier.
“We’ve been getting better each week, it just hasn’t shown because we’ve played some very good teams — Eastlake, for instance, is one of the top teams in the state,” said SuHi head coach Brian Hay, whose team put the memories of its 52-14 loss at Eastlake the previous week and a 1-4 start behind it with the rousing win over the Lancers.
Sweetwater, obviously energized by its new playing field, took a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Victor Alfaro and looked to score again when Antonio Garcia hauled in a 19-yard pass by quarterback Christian Amon to place the ball at the Hilltop 17-yard line.
But a missed handoff resulted in a fumble to kill that drive.
The Devils sputtered again after moving the ball into Hilltop territory on their next series but pinned the Lancers on their own one-yard line after a punt. Would the Sweetwater defense force a turnover deep in Hilltop territory?
The visiting Lancers — cheered on by their own section of spirited fans — responded with the kind of football that had defined their 5-0 start.
Drake Madarang (25 carries, 194 yards) promptly ripped off a 61-yard run down the near sideline to the SuHi 35-yard line and a Montel Campbell sideline scamper to the opposite side of the field quickly moved the ball to the seven-yard line.
With 25 seconds left in the first half, Madarang scored on a five-yard run to record the first touchdown on the new field.
The defensive standoff between the teams continued in the second half and it appeared the Lancers were ready to close in for the kill to record their sixth consecutive victory.
Hilltop went ahead 9-3 on a safety when the ball dribbled out the back of the end zone on a poorly executed punt.
But the hosts would not be denied. Taking a page from the Lancers’ playbook, the Devils showed they were the better team when it mattered most.
It was Sweetwater that found a way this time.
A punt backed up Hilltop to its own four-yard line midway in the third quarter and the Lancers promptly did something they couldn’t afford to do: lose the football.
The Devils seized the opportunity with a key fumble recovery and James Zarate earned his place in school history as the first Sweetwater player to score a touchdown on the new field.
Neither team was finished in what turned out to be a dramatic cliffhanger.
With time ticking down on the scoreboard in the final quarter, the Lancers began to march downfield for what appeared to be a potential game-winning touchdown before the Devil defense rose to the occasion. The lack of a passing game on the Lancers’ part — quarterback Daniel Sanchez had just one completion in five attempts for 17 yards — was magnified in the late going.
Sweetwater dodged a bullet and got possession of the ball back near midfield with 6:16 left in the game, needing to employ their double-wing running attack to run down the clock.
Instead, Angel Reyes ran around end, finding a hole on second down-and-11 to bolt 62 yards down the hosts’ sideline for the game-clinching touchdown.
Hilltop, now trailing by eight points, still had life. Facing fourth-and-20, the Lancers got 19 of it back but turned the ball over on downs to the hosts with 1:05 to play.
Sweetwater ran a couple of pitch plays while straddling midfield and then went into victory formation to the delight of its fans.
It was not the prettiest of wins, but it was a win — something the Devils will gladly take as they prepare for upcoming Metro-Pacific League play, possibly now as one of the favorites.
“We played with great emotion and effort,” Hay said. “It’s a matter of 1,000 reps and getting it down right.”
The Devils had the right stuff Friday night.
Sweetwater finished the game with 267 rushing yards on 37 carries while Hilltop totaled 217 rushing yards on 36 carries.
For the Devils, Reyes finished the night with eight carries for 119 yards; he also caught a 35-yard pass as teammate Amon finished 2-for-2 in the passing department with 54 yards. Reyes ended the game with 154 all-purpose yards while Hilltop’s Madarang accumulated 211 total yards by adding one 17-yard catch.
David Vasquez led the Lancers with 16 tackles while teammate Adrian Rios had 10 stops; Jared Akers was credited with one sack.
The respective teams now face key games this Friday. Sweetwater’s Hay returns to Mar Vista where he won three Metro-South Bay League titles with the Mariners while Hilltop hosts two-time defending Metro-Pacific League champion Mater Dei Catholic.
MDC defeated visiting Mar Vista, 31-27, in a shootout last Friday. Both the Crusaders and Mariners are 2-4 on the season.
Jimmie Hill carried the ball 22 times for Mar Vista to total 227 yards and two touchdowns while quarterbacks Dan Lujon and Brandon Scales each tossed scoring passes. Hill also caught one TD pass to finish with three touchdowns in the game.
Other key games this week include San Ysidro at Castle Park in a match-up of 3-3 teams seeking Division IV playoff berths, Bonita Vista (3-4) vs. Otay Ranch (1-5) at Olympian High School and Southwest (0-6) at Montgomery (2-4). Both Bonita Vista and Montgomery are seeking victories to solidify playoff standing while Otay Ranch is in dire need of a win to make a late playoff run.
Prep Football Scoreboard
Friday, Oct. 11
Olympian 37, Otay Ranch 14
Chula Vista 19, Bonita Vista 10
Friday, Oct. 18
Chula Vista at Eastlake, 7 p.m.
Otay Ranch vs. Bonita Vista at Olympian High School, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 11
Sweetwater 17, Hilltop 9
Castle Park 63, Southwest 32
Mater Dei Catholic 31, Mar Vista 27
San Ysidro 22, Montgomery 14
Chula Vista Calvary Christian Academy 22, Borrego Springs 6
Agassi Prep (Las Vegas) 59, Lutheran 0
Friday, Oct. 18
San Ysidro at Castle Park, 7 p.m.
Mater Dei Catholic at Hilltop, 7 p.m.
Sweetwater at Mar Vista, 7 p.m.
Southwest at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 19
Lutheran vs. Julian at Monte Vista High School, 7 p.m.
Chula Vista Calvary Christian Academy vs. Classical Academy at Orange Glen High School, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 11
Vista Calvary Christian Academy 26, Ocean View Christian Academy 12
Friday, Oct. 18
Ocean View Christian Academy at St. Michael’s Prep, 3:30 p.m.