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The Reign In San Fernando Continues PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 12 December 2013 03:14

But South Gate Makes Tigers Work To Win A Second Straight City Section Division II Title

Photo Credit Darryl Washburn

Collecting More Hardware — The San Fernando High football team capped a 14-0 season by winning back-to-back City titles at East Los Angeles College on Friday, Dec. 6. The Tigers have won 18 straight games, dating back to last season.

Move over Charles White. You too, Anthony Davis. It's time to make room for another San Fernando High football legend.

Cris Solano has jackhammered his name permanently among the historical pantheon of Tiger greats, after leading San Fernando to back-toback Los Angeles City Section championships.

On a night when the Tigers alternated between effortlessness and being flat, Solano directed an 86-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that enabled San Fernando to finally beat back South Gate, 34-32, in the Division II final at East Los Angeles College on Friday, Dec. 6.

Photo Credit Darryl Washburn

Pride Of The Tigers — Senior quarterback Cris Solano, seen here on his nineyard touchdown run against South Gate, capped his San Fernando High football career with a second straight City Division II championship.

Along with passing for 284 yards and a touchdown, Solano absorbed four sacks by the Rams defense but rallied his team's spirits after the Tigers gave up a two-touchdown lead, and were staring defeat squarely in the face.

He was an emergency sub on defense. The regular starting safety had sustained a knee injury in practice and Solano learned enough defensive schemes during the week so he could be inserted if needed. On the Rams' last possession, Solano begged the coaches to let him in. On fourth down, he made a crunching tackle on the South Gate receiver to knock the ball out of his hands, and deny the Rams a first down on what turned out to be their last play.

In doing so, Solano kept San Fernando's 2013 record spotless (14-0) and the Tigers extended their winning streak to 18 games, dating back to last season's playoffs.

Speaking of 18, that was the birthday Solano celebrated on Friday.

You can't make this stuff up.

"This has to be the most amazing experience of my life," said Solano, who has a scholarship offer from the University of Nevada-Reno.

Solano would be the first to tell you the Tigers are no oneman team, that he had plenty of help.

Like senior wide receiver Charles Bell, who caught seven passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, and also ran back a kickoff for a score. Or senior Johnny Nunez, who grinded out 66 rushing yards as a fullback, punishing hits as a linebacker, and who was right next to Solano on the Tigers' last defensive play. Or freshman running back Alex Gonzalez, who had two carries in the game – both for touchdowns, including the game-winner with 2:02 left to play.

There is no question, however, that the heart and soul of the Tigers the last two years has been the charismatic Solano who is tough and compassionate, smart but humble, and a leader with a capital "L."

"He's a special player," said Tigers Coach Robert Garcia, the gleam in his eye becoming a bit brighter when talking about his quarterback. "It's going to be hard to find another Cris Solano around here, man. As a 10th grader he was in need of guidance. The (coaching) staff took him under their wing and showed him a lot of what he knows now. And he's matured into a great quarterback.

"I'm proud and happy for him, that he'll get a shot to play in college, in Division I. I couldn't be prouder of him. He's a great kid."

Garcia thought Solano would have a big day. "Birthday games can be good omens," the coach said, adding he also had the team wear the same uniforms they wore in the 2012 championship game against Canoga Park.

Having all the superstitious bases covered, the Tigers could turn their attention to making history.

Fans were still settling in their seats when Bell took the opening kickoff for San Fernando at the 20-yard line and raced through South Gate for an 80-yard touchdown, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead. Gonzalez would make it 13-0 with a sixyard touchdown run at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter.

Still, the ease with which the Tigers had built their lead was planting some dangerous seeds.

"Once I broke loose through the middle (on the kickoff return), I was thinking, 'we got this. We don't even have to try,'" Bell said afterward.

But the Rams had brought their own firepower.

Running back Lavell Thompson, a junior who ran for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, weaved his way impressively through the San Fernando defense on a 17-yard scoring run to get South Gate on the scoreboard. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

Solano opened the second quarter with a nine-yard touchdown run and the Tigers' lead jumped to 20-6. The Rams answered with a four-yard scoring run by senior running back Alexander Flatos, who also ran a two-point conversion to narrow the gap to 20-14 with 9:36 left in the first half.

Solano and the Tigers had another scoring drive in them. A 53-yard pass from Solano to Oscar Salazar set up San Fernando on the South Gate 13. Although an illegal procedure penalty set the Tigers back five yards, it didn't stop Solano from whistling an 18-yard scoring pass to Bell. Solano added a two-point run as well, and San Fernando had a 28-14 lead at halftime.

But when the third quarter began, San Fernando – which had been nearly flawless in the first half – suddenly couldn't do anything right and the Rams took full advantage.

South Gate opened the quarter with a quick score on a twoyard run by Thompson to close within 28-20. The Tigers' offense began to stall thanks to an outbreak of delay and false start penalties that curtailed drives before they started. Then came a critical blunder – San Fernando fumbled a punt on its own 30-yardline at the 2:38 mark. The Rams quickly claimed the ball, and celebrated four plays later when freshman running back Terrell Goins slipped into the end zone from two yards out.

The score was now 28-26. The nerves of the Tigers players and fans had been stretched taut. The Rams' confidence had soared.

South Gate kept the pressure on. San Fernando continued to blindly thrash about. And in the fourth quarter the Rams took a 32-28 lead on a nine play, 52- yard drive that culminated with Goins' second touchdown, this time from nine yards out, with 7:19 left.

The Tigers offense remained penalty-stricken and out of synch, punting the ball back to South Gate with 5:59 left on the clock. The Rams started marching forward again, toward a clinching touchdown or to run out the clock. Either way, San Fernando looked powerless to stop it.

"I was worried," Gonzalez admitted afterward. "I was afraid they would score again and we couldn't come back."

But then the Tigers got the break they needed, forcing a Rams fumble – their only turnover of the game – on San Fernando's 14-yardline. There was 3:46 left to play, and only a touchdown would do.

That was plenty of time.

Solano rallied his offense around him in the huddle, reminding them to make no more penalties, and to go on a silent count so the South Gate defense couldn't always predict when the ball might be snapped. And his teammates became relaxed and focused.

"I wasn't panicked at all," Bell said. "The intensity, the adrenaline rush…it made everyone want to go even harder to get that win."

Solano got things started with an 11-yard pass to his favorite receiver Jose Camargo. And he kept the ball in the air and in the hands of the Tigers: a 15-yard strike to Bell; a 13-yard chainmover to Oscar Hernandez; a 28-yarder to Bell, after which the officials tacked on a personal foul penalty on the Rams defense that moved the ball to the South Gate 7-yardline.

Solano was stopped for no gain on the Tigers' first crack at a touchdown. But on the next play, San Fernando ran the same play for Gonzalez it did back in the first quarter, walling off the right side of the Rams defense as the young freshman sprinted for the corner of the end zone. He got there untouched, until being mobbed by teammates.

"The play worked the way it was supposed to…the hole was pretty big," Gonzalez said.

When the game ended, the Tigers' collective emotional release was felt all over the stadium. After both teams lined up, shook hands, and received their awards, Solano hugged coaches, teammates and raced into the stands to hug his parents. Players took turns touching the championship trophy and plaque, then bask in the cheers of their fans.

"We came out flat (in the second half ). There were little mistakes here and there. But we finally settled down, got into a rhythm, and started moving the ball," Solano said.

"(His teammates) didn't give up on me and I didn't give up on them. That's what the Tigers are made of; we don't give up in the fourth quarter."

All that was left to the Tigers was to try and appreciate their accomplishment.

"Ever since my JV year playing under (Coach Garcia) I knew we were going somewhere far," Nunez said. "Last year we win 42-35; this year a very close game. But to go back-to-back, that's how I wanted to end my career here."

"Man, it's a dream," added Bell. "I didn't know what it was like until now; my first time ever being on a football team that went 14-0. Fourteen wins, zero losses…nobody could get that but San Fernando."

Of course, the birthday boy said it best.

"An undefeated champion," Solano said. "What else can you ask for?"


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Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 00:15

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