The Sweetwater High School football team will be making a return to the San Diego Section football championships for the first time since 1984 after recording a gritty 17-7 come-from-behind victory against the visiting Central Union Spartans last Friday.
The second-seeded Red Devils (8-4) captured their seventh consecutive victory in eliminating the third-seeded Spartans (6-6) but no one on the National City team could say it was easy.
Victor Alfaro kicked a 30-yard field goal — the ball hit the left upright and bounced back down and in — to allow the Devils to take a 3-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. But the hosts found themselves staring at a 7-3 halftime deficit following a 14-yard touchdown catch by Central’s Ricky Williams with 14.7 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Devils’ vaunted double-wing offense dominated the second half in terms of time of possession, keeping the ball away from the visitors’ pass-oriented attack. Sweetwater would prevail on touchdown runs of 13 yards by Raven Middleton (4:28 left in the third quarter) and one yard by Angel Reyes (10:51 left in the fourth quarter).
Reyes’ touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal call after the Devils were fortunate to recover a fumble on a previous third-and-goal play.
SuHi head coach Brian Hay credited his team’s second-half defensive stand as the key to the turnaround in the elimination game. After allowing the Spartans 70 yards in the first half, the Red Devil defense clamped down in the second half by allowing the Imperial Valley visitors just 36 yards.
The Sweetwater defense amassed four sacks, two interceptions and eight tackles for losses in the game.
“The key was for our defense to get all the kinks out early on,” Hay said. “We hadn’t seen a passing team like this all year. They forced us to do some things we didn’t want to do, so give them credit. They came to play. This was the best passing team we had seen all year.
“But our offense came through in the second half. When our offense is working, when we’re able to keep the ball away from people, we win.
“I’m extremely happy for the kids. I’m very proud for them to experience something like this.”
Sweetwater will play top-seeded Monte Vista (7-5) in Saturday’s Division IV championship game at San Diego Mesa College after the Monarchs rallied to defeat fourth-seeded La Jolla, 41-24, last Friday.
Kick off is 3:30 p.m.
The SuHi defense clearly set up the Devils’ final score after forcing a punt from the end zone.
James Zarate secured the win with an interception on the final play of the game, returning the ball 35 yards before finally sliding into the turf as time expired.
Ball control by the SuHi offense in the second half clearly was a key part of the winning factor.
The hosts rolled up 293 rushing yards. Garcia led the way with 91 yards on 13 carries, followed by Reyes with 86 yards on 18 carries and Middleton with 56 yards on 13 carries. Zarate collected 33 yards on five carries while quarterback Christian Amon rushed five times for 27 yards.
Garcia, who also caught two passes for 17 yards in last Friday’s game, leads Sweetwater on the season with 1,273 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns (10 rushing) while Reyes has rushed for 1,102 yards and 10 TDs. Middleton has 652 rushing yards and four touchdowns while Zarate has 395 rushing yards and six touchdowns to his credit.
Zarate leads the Devils with 67 total tackles while Jose Lopez and Middleton each have five sacks. Lopez also has three fumble recoveries while Jaylon Davis has four interceptions. Davis had the other pick in last Friday’s game to halt a potential Central scoring drive in the first half.
Meanwhile, Monte Vista will be returning to the CIF finals for the first time in 10 years after defeating Helix for the 2003 Division II title. Senior captain Jameil Jackson scored on runs of 57 and 21 yards in the second half to help rescue the Monarchs from a 24-21 deficit.
Monte Vista opened the game with a 21-0 lead but closed out the contest with 20 unanswered points to draw a rematch against Sweetwater.
The Devils hope they have improved enough over the course of the season to make amends for a 34-3 loss to the Monarchs on Sept. 20 in a non-league game played at Hilltop High School.
Lancers stymied by Patriots in Division III semifinals
The second-seeded Christian Patriots (11-1) will play the fifth-seeded San Marcos Knights (9-4) in the nightcap of Saturday’s championship double-header after the Patriots eliminated the third-seeded Hilltop Lancers, 28-13, in last Friday’s Division III semifinals.
Hilltop, which advanced to a division semifinal game for the first time since 1997, finished one of the finest seasons in school history with a 10-2 record.
The Lancers rushed for 253 yards in the game and trailed 21-13 at halftime. Drake Madarang had 22 carries for 130 yards and one touchdown while teammate Montel Campbell rushed 15 times for 118 yards and one touchdown.
While the Lancers contained the Christian running game for the most part, holding star rusher Paris Miller to 62 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown, the Patriots resorted to the airwaves to do their damage as quarterback Michael Carrillo hooked up with receiver Kai Arvan for three touchdowns.
Carrillo finished the game with 260 passing yards; Arvan had seven catches for 177 yards.
Carrillo enters Saturday’s division championship game with 2,440 passing yards with 31 touchdowns and just one interception.
Madarang finished the season with 1,346 rushing yards on 233 carries and scored 12 touchdowns to lead Hilltop offensively. David Vasquez was the Lancers’ defensive leader with 95 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions and three caused fumbles.
San Diego Section Football Playoffs
(5) San Marcos 28, (8) Granite Hills 17
(2) Christian 28, Hilltop 13
Saturday, Dec. 7
(5) San Marcos (9-4) vs. (2) Christian (11-1), 7 p.m. at San Diego Mesa College
(1) Monte Vista 41, (4) La Jolla 24
(2) Sweetwater 17, (3) Central Union 7
Saturday, Dec. 7
(2) Sweetwater (8-4) vs. (1) Monte Vista (7-5), 3:30 p.m. at San Diego Mesa College