The ending to Friday’s non-league high school football game between the Chula Vista Spartans and Bonita Vista Barons at Southwestern College was worthy of a Super Bowl championship game.
Certainly, the word “super” described everything about the game, which has to rank as one of the most exciting played so far this season in the San Diego Section.
Down 21-3 at halftime (and trailing by that margin for most of the third quarter as well), the Spartans engineered a dramatic comeback with three touchdowns in the final 13 minutes of the game — two in the final quarter — to rip an apparent victory from the hands of the winless Barons, who seemed to deserve more.
Chula Vista quarterback Darrion Hamilton scored on a fourth-and-inches sneak with 56 seconds to play to cap a furious Spartan comeback to fuel what some might call an improbable 24-21 win.
But don’t tell that to Chula Vista’s players and coaching staff.
They believed they had the right stuff all along.
“We went into the half and we didn’t panic,” Spartan head coach Howard Bannister explained. “I told these guys what we do works and to believe in each other and not give up. We weren’t going to change anything.
“We just needed to be a little more physical in the second half and wear them down. We played a good football team tonight and they really gave us a challenge.
“It was a statement win for us. We didn’t give up.”
The loss was the fifth consecutive for the Barons under new head coach Aaron Jones. The outcome was obviously a disappointing one for Jones and his troops.
“We had a lot of opportunities to win but it was our inability to take advantage of them that cost us,” Jones admitted. “Our defense played well enough to win but our offense was unable to make the plays we needed. We needed to run the ball and we couldn't. Late in the game we had an interception and then fumbled on the next play to give the ball back to them. That killed us. That was it.”
The Barons looked good early on, taking a 6-0 lead on a three-yard run by Kevin Rozar with 2:13 elapsed in the game. The scoring drive was set up by two successful fourth-down conversions and a 30-yard pass play from quarterback Franklin Forbes to Raymond Terrones.
The extra-point conversion was blocked, however.
The Spartans responded by doing what they do best, which is run the ball. However, the drive stalled and Isaac Gardner came onto the field to kick a 27-yard field goal to trim the BV lead in half.
That would be the last time the visitors would score until 47.1 seconds remained in the third quarter.
During that span, the Barons would tack two more touchdowns on the scoreboard to build what looked like an insurmountable lead.
A 52-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Joseph Cantwell and an ensuing two-point conversion pass by Forbes made the score 14-3 midway through the second quarter.
The momentum continued.
Forbes hit Terrones on a 19-yard scoring play to hike the score to 21-3 following the successful extra-point kick conversion by Kennet Brevig.
The Barons had a chance to add to their lead on a 50-yard interception return that set the ball at Chula Vista 15-yard line. However, with 1.7 seconds to play, rather than attempt a field goal, the hosts elected to remain aggressive with their play calling. But Forbes threw an incomplete pass in the end zone.
The BV offense was essentially absent in the second half while the Spartans rolled up 21 unanswered points.
Late in the third quarter, Hamilton passed 15 yards to Justin Cantwell for a touchdown to make the score 21-9 after the extra-point conversion failed.
The game got really interesting when Hamilton passed six yards to Cantwell for a touchdown with 7:35 left in the game. Hamilton ran in the two-point conversion to narrow the Baron lead to 21-17.
Just 50 seconds later, the Spartans appeared to hit pay dirt when Victor Agraz intercepted a looping pass by Forbes.
But the BV defense came up big in a bid to hold onto their shrinking lead with a counter interception.
But the Barons could not do anything offensively on the ensuing change of possession and, in fact, promptly handed the ball back to the visitors on a fumble.
Chula Vista made the recovery at the Baron 35-yard line and used its powerful running game to deliver the hammer blow.
Gardner tacked on the extra-point kick following Hamilton’s dramatic TD sneak to put the visitors in front by three points.
The hosts had one last possession, taking over at their own 12-yard line. Forbes completed a pass to midfield with 14.2 seconds left. But there would be no miracle comeback when he was sacked on the next play to end the game.
The CV sideline was jumping with joy as the game clock hit zeroes to punctuate the wild come-from-behind victory.
The win was the third consecutive for the Spartans (3-2) after starting the season 0-2. It was further testament to the ongoing growth of the team and Hamilton as the team’s senior signal-caller.
Hamilton overcame three interceptions to rush for the game-winning touchdown while also throwing two scoring passes.
“I knew we could score, I knew we could come back,” CV’s Cantwell said after the game. “I know my teammates would never give up.”
The Barons wasted a tremendous defensive effort in the loss that included three picks and two fumble recoveries.
“We found ways to stub our toes,” Jones said. “This team doesn’t know how to win yet. We’ll get back on the field and keep going.”
It definitely won’t get any easier for the Barons, who host third-ranked Helix (3-1) next Friday at Southwestern College.
It also will not get any easier for Chula Vista, which plays at Eastlake (4-1) in its next game. The Titans defeated the visiting Valhalla Norsemen, 38-7, on Friday.
Bonita Vista kicks off Metro-Mesa League play with an Oct. 6 game at Olympian — 38-28 losers at Point Loma on Friday. The Spartans kick off Metro-South Bay League play with an Oct. 20 contest against visiting Hilltop, 50-14 winners Friday at Castle Park.
In another stunner on Friday, Sweetwater picked up its first win of the season – and the first win for new head coach Bryan Wagner – by crushing host El Cajon Valley, 46-7, behind five touchdowns by Marty Sesma.
The Red Devils (1-3) host Serra (2-2) in a non-league game this coming Friday.
Prep Football Scoreboard
Friday, Sept. 22
Chula Vista 24, Bonita Vista 21
Eastlake 38, Valhalla 7
Hilltop 50, Castle Park 14
Sweetwater 46, El Cajon Valley 7
Mar Vista 28, University City 21
Mater Dei Catholic 30, La Jolla 28
Southwest 28, Orange Vista 14
Steele Canyon 14, Otay Ranch 13
Point Loma 38, Olympian 28
Clairemont 14, Montgomery 0
Kearny 41, San Ysidro 0
Victory Christian Academy 56, Horizon Prep 42
West Shores 68, Ocean View Christian Acaemy 6
Friday, Sept. 29
Chula Vista at Eastlake, 7 p.m.
Cathedral Catholic at Olympian, 7 p.m.
Oceanside at Mater Dei Catholic, 7 p.m.
Helix vs. Bonita Vista at Southwestern College, 7 p.m.
Serra at Sweetwater, 7 p.m.
Santana at Mar Vista, 7 p.m.
Calipatria at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
Calexico at Southwest, 7 p.m.
Francis Parker at San Ysidro, 7 p.m.
Otay Ranch at Valhalla, 7 p.m.
Castle Park at San Pasqual, 7 p.m.
Hilltop at Escondido, 7 p.m.
Ocean View Christian Academy vs. St. Joseph Academy at Connors Park (San Marcos), 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 4
Victory Christian Academy at San Diego Jewish Academy, 3:30 p.m.
San Diego Section
Mission Hills Grizzlies 5-0
La Costa Canyon Mavericks 5-0
San Marcos Knights 5-0
Madison Warhawks 4-0
Ramona Bulldogs 5-0
Christian Patriots 4-0
Mira Mesa Marauders 4-0
Bishop’s Knights 4-0
Southwest El Centro Eagles 4-0
Kearny Komets 5-0
Central Union Spartans 4-0
San Diego Cavers 4-0
Crawford Colts 5-0
San Diego Section
Eastlake Titans 4-1
Olympian Eagles 3-2
Bonita Vista Barons 0-5
Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders 2-2
Otay Ranch Mustangs 2-3
Mar Vista Mariners 3-2
Hilltop Lancers 2-3
Chula Vista Spartans 3-2
Sweetwater Red Devils 1-3
Castle Park Trojans 0-5
San Ysidro Cougars 3-2
Montgomery Aztecs 2-3
Southwest Raiders 1-4
Victory Christian Academy 2-1
Ocean View Christian Academy 1-2