In a match-up of defending champions and would-be champions, the host Hilltop Lancers defeated the Castle Park Trojans, 24-21, in a seesaw non-league battle Friday night.
Bryton Madarang scored on a 16-yard run with 4:22 to play, and then bowled into the end zone on the ensuing two-point conversion to rally the defending Metro-South Bay League champions to a season-opening victory.
“We knew we had to do it, we knew we just had to win, that’s all,” said Madarang in describing his team’s game-winning drive that erased a 21-16 Castle Park edge.
“Football is a game about never giving up,” HHS head coach Cody Roelof emphasized to his troops in the team’s post-game talk.
The Lancers rallied from a 14-7 halftime deficit with a pair of touchdowns and a 37-yard field goal in the second half.
Overall, the game featured five lead changes.
Hilltop opened scoring in the first quarter on a 14-yard scoring pass from quarterback Daniel Sanchez to Michael Talbert.
The successful extra-point conversion by Emilio Ugarte put the hosts up 7-0.
The Trojans, the preseason pick to win this year’s Metro-Pacific League title, evened the score on a three-yard run by quarterback Jordan Danielson in the second quarter and the extra point by Arthur Zertuche.
Danielson tossed a five-yard scoring pass to Mylik Steen later in the quarter and Zertuche’s second PAT of the night put the Trojans up by a touchdown at halftime.
The teams combined for 24 points in the second half, including 18 points in the fourth quarter to increase the excitement level.
Sanchez connected with Isaiah Dillon on a 73-yard touchdown catch-and-carry to trim the Lancers’ deficit to 14-13 after a missed extra-point conversion attempt.
Ugarte put Hilltop ahead, 16-13, with a field goal to open scoring in the fourth quarter.
But the visitors responded with a great defensive series to take over on downs inside the Lancer 30-yard line, and Steen scored his second touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run to the corner pylon with 7:31 left in the contest.
The ball came out after Steen crossed the goal line, thus causing a cascade of boos from the home fans and apparently some unpleasantries from both sidelines.
Zertuche wound up drilling a 30-yard extra-point conversion after penalties to both teams had been assessed to leave Castle Park — 37-7 losers to Hilltop in last season’s opener — up by five points.
But the hosts refused to give up the ball on their next possession, driving for the game-winning touchdown.
Talbert caught a key fourth-and-five pass to extend the drive, and Madarang scored on a bolt up the middle on the next play.
Talbert had four catches for 86 yards in the game while Sanchez completed nine of 17 passing attempts for 195 yards and two scores.
The Lancer rushing game was productive with 205 yards on 36 carries. Madarang led the hosts with 95 yards on 18 attempts while Sanchez called his own number eight times for 82 yards.
Madarang topped Hilltop with 109 all-purpose yards after also making one pass reception for 18 yards.
Danielson completed nine of 16 attempts for 81 yards while tacking on 36 yards on nine rushing attempts. Adrian Tolbert was the visitors’ top receiver with four catches for 48 yards.
The Trojans managed just 113 yards on the ground, with Steen totaling 29 yards on five carries and Angel Sales (seven carries) and Luq Barcoo (five carries) both collecting 24 yards.
Steen led Castle Park with 10 tackles, followed by teammate Angel Juarez with nine stops. Daniel Arana had two sacks while Danielson, also handling the punting duties, boomed five kicks for a 40.6-yard average.
Hilltop travels to take on Patrick Henry (0-1) on Friday, Sept. 5, in a 6:30 p.m. non-league game while Castle Park will host La Jolla Country Day (0-1) in a 7 p.m. non-league contest.
Patrick Henry is coming off a 37-22 non-league loss at Grossmont while LJCD dropped a 64-19 non-league decision to La Jolla in games on Aug. 29.
Metro Conference Scoreboard
Friday, Aug. 29
Hilltop 24, Castle Park 21
Sweetwater 19, Santa Fe Christian 0
Olympian 21, Mt. Carmel 7
Otay Ranch 21, Valhalla 11
Mater Dei Catholic 30, Kearny 6
San Ysidro 19, Escondido Charter 7
Montgomery 44, Cardenas Federal Prep (Tijuana, Mex.) 0
Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.) 23, Eastlake 11
Steele Canyon 48, Chula Vista 18
Vista 24, Bonita Vista 6
Valley Center 40, Mar Vista 14
Santana 35, Southwest 0
Friday, Sept. 5
Crawford at Sweetwater, 7 p.m.
San Marcos at Chula Vista, 7 p.m.
La Jolla Country Day at Castle Park, 7 p.m.
Grossmont at Otay Ranch, 7 p.m.
Southwest El Centro at San Ysidro, 7 p.m.
Coronado at Southwest, 7 p.m.
Clairemont at Mar Vista, 7 p.m.
Hilltop at Patrick Henry, 6:30 p.m.
Montgomery at El Cajon Valley, 7 p.m.
Mater Dei Catholic at El Capitan, 7 p.m.
Eastlake at Vista, 7 p.m.
Bonita Vista, bye