Never give up? How about: Find a way?
The Hilltop High School football team might as well take a page from Eastlake Little League’s 2013 Little League World Series U.S. national championship team to describe its 5-0 start to the 2013 season.
The Lancers found yet another way to extend their perfect start to the prep pigskin campaign after dealing the visiting Otay Ranch Mustangs a 7-6 non-league defeat last Friday.
The Mustangs, who compete at the Division I level, led 6-0 for virtually the entire game on a first quarter rushing score by quarterback Kyle Hawkins before Hilltop signal-caller Daniel Sanchez called his own number and bulled into the end zone on a critical fourth-and-goal play with 4:04 left in the fourth quarter.
Luis Hernandez then split the uprights on the all-important extra point to push the hosts in front by a point.
The extra-point kick had failed on the visitors’ touchdown.
David Vasquez then sealed the dramatic come-from-behind victory when he intercepted Otay Ranch quarterback Triston Brand in the dying seconds, running out of bounds with the ball as time expired.
“A win is a win, baby!” one Hilltop player uttered as time ticked down. Others quickly joined in with likewise celebratory cheers.
Is it time to believe? This is the first Lancer team to go 5-0 since 1979.
“This game summed up the special thing about this football team,” an obviously elated HHS coach Cody Roelof said. “The kids don’t quit — they don’t give up. We’ve got to keep this up the rest of the year.”
Last Friday’s game could easily have ended in a scoreless tie with a few different bounces of the football.
A Lancer fumble on a punt return set up the visitors at the Hilltop 40-yard line with 4:21 remaining in the opening quarter. Manuel Cossio recovered the ball after a hard hit by Christian Moran had pried the ball loose from the Hilltop player’s grasp.
The Mustangs, who were attempting to shake off a disappointing 1-3 start to the season, moved the ball downfield until Hawkins called his own number to score two yards from around end with 1:04 left in the quarter.
The defenses of both teams stiffened thereafter.
In fact, it appeared that Hilltop might self-destruct on its game-winning drive.
The Lancers received the ball at their own 39-yard line with 9:14 remaining in the game. Drake Madarang promptly ripped off a 22-yard run to place the ball at the Otay Ranch 39. However, Hilltop looked to sputter on fourth-and-eight before an offside penalty on the Mustangs moved the ball five yards closer to a first down.
Facing fourth-and-three, Madarang ripped off another inspired run, this time reaching the OR 21-yard line.
Sanchez moved the ball to the seven on another big rushing gain. But, once again, the Mustangs pushed the hosts back. A sack and motion penalty moved the ball back to the 15-yard line.
Another rushing attempt proved futile until a 10-yard penalty opened the door for the hosts to snatch victory from the jaws of impending defeat.
Madarang, who proved Hilltop’s workhorse in the game with 25 carries for 89 yards, bulled ahead to the seven-yard line. But no gain on a third-down play left the Lancers staring at fourth-and-seven with 4:10 to play.
Roelof called a timeout, and in a dramatic and intense moment after returning to the field with his team’s undefeated season on the line, Sanchez went around end on the ensuing play to score the game-tying touchdown.
Hernandez’s PAT gave the hosts what proved to be their margin of victory.
The Lancers, who generated just 125 yards in offense in the game, had to survive one more harrowing Otay Ranch possession after giving the ball back on a punt with 1:01 left. The Mustangs started at their own 21-yard line. Two incompletions followed before Brand, coming into the game for starter Hawkins, made a mad dash to the 30-yard line, setting up fourth-and-one.
Brand passed for a first down with 23.3 seconds left; another clutch completion moved the ball to the Hilltop 46 with 10.6 seconds left.
Without any timeouts remaining and a long field goal attempt unlikely, Brand heaved his next two passes down field toward the Otay Ranch sideline.
The first was batted away; Vasquez picked off the next attempt to end the game.
The win was a stunner for a Hilltop team that had essentially been out-defended the whole game — that is, until it mattered most.
The Lancers, who compete in the section’s new Division III tier, used a similar game plan to stun the host Chula Vista Spartans, another Division I team, in recoring a 21-7 victory in September’s Chula Vista Kiwanis Bowl XII game.
Last Friday’s emotional victory was thus not lost on anyone in the Hilltop camp.
“We’ve taken down two Division I teams so far this year,” Roelof said, beaming.
But one game — or five games — does not make a season. Otay Ranch discovered that last year after zooming to a 6-0 start. The Mustangs dropped their final four games to finish regular season play 6-4.
Hilltop will attempt to extend its mark to 6-0 when it travels to Sweetwater (Division IV tier) on Friday to help the host Red Devils (1-4) inaugurate their new field. Kick-off is 7 p.m.
The Lancers are not only the Metro Conference’s lone remaining undefeated team but only one of two undefeated teams in Division III, joining the Francis Parker Lancers.
Said Sanchez: “We have a lot of momentum, we have a lot of confidence right now.”
Vasquez and teammate Sergio Bueno keyed the victors with 10 tackles each; the Lancers recorded four sacks as a team.
Sweetwater enters Friday’s game in its new stadium riding a four-game losing streak after dropping a 52-14 non-league decision last Friday at Eastlake (5-1).
PREP FOOTBALL SCOREBOARD
Friday, Oct. 4
Eastlake 52, Sweetwater 14
Olympian 42, Montgomery 7
Bonita Vista 21, Mater Dei Catholic 14
Chula Vista 35, Castle Park 7
Mar Vista 14, Santana 6
Maranatha Christian 18, Lutheran 16
Friday, Oct. 11
Hilltop at Sweetwater, 7 p.m.
Bonita Vista at Chula Vista, 7 p.m.
Olympian at Otay Ranch, 7 p.m.
Mar Vista at Mater Dei Catholic, 7 p.m.
Montgomery at San Yisdro, 7 p.m.
Castle Park at Southwest, 7 p.m.
Borrego Springs vs. Chula Vista Calvary Christian Academy at Olympian High School, 7 p.m.
Lutheran at Agassi Prep (Las Vegas), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12
Ocean View Christian Academy at Vista Calvary Christian Academy, 7 p.m.
Never give up? How about: Find a way?