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|Chaminade Stopped Short Of First Southern Section Championship|
|Written by Mike Terry|
|Thursday, 06 December 2012 05:18|
Serra Cavaliers Win Rematch Of League Foes To Claim Third Western Division Title In Past Four Years
Pick any sport, watch it long enough, and at some point someone will invariably blurt out, "It's a game of inches."
That analogy or cliché, take your pick, became a painful truth for Chaminade.
The Eagles were trailing Gardena Serra, 30- 28, with less than a minute to play in the game after scoring a touchdown to draw within two points. Everyone in the Serra High stands knew what was coming next – an onside kick, one last chance to get the ball and try to win the Southern Section's Western Division championship last Friday, Nov. 30.
Chaminade kicker Ben Kreitenberg rapped the ball off of his right foot and both teams scrambled for the spinning pigskin. Chaminade's Nolan Ramirez got to it first, setting off a rowdy reaction from the Chaminade sideline. Now it depended on where the game officials set the ball, because it had to travel at least 10 yards from where Kreitenberg kicked it before an Eagles player could touch hit.
After a couple of minutes to confer, the officials put the ball down – about one inch shy of the necessary 10 yards. It was Serra's ball, and the Cavaliers went on to win their third championship in the past four years, while denying Chaminade its first ever title in 60 years of playing football. Naturally the Chaminade faithful saw if differently (although television replays seemed to indicate the ball had traveled the necessary distance for Ramirez to make a legal recovery).
"It's human error," Chaminade Coach Ed Croson said after the game. "And if you're gonna blame it on the officials …. there were a hundred places in the game where we could have done something different and made the play. So you've gotta leave no doubt. That's the way it goes.
"But that was a great onside kick. (The officials) said it wasn't long enough. But we left it in their hands. There were places in the game where we could have left no doubt. But give Serra credit. They played hard; they've got good players. And they're at home."
Serra Coach Scott Altenberg, not surprisingly, was satisfied with the decision. "It looked like (Chaminade) got it early, but of course I'm a bit biased," Altenberg said. "I just can't believe we put it in that situation; that was terrible. But it happened, and we move on. It's just exciting to win the game."
It was a game that, frankly, Serra deserved to win. It was not always the dominant team on the field, but it was the more opportunistic one.
Although the score was 14-14 after the first half, both offenses were struggling. Chaminade quarterback Brad Kaaya was hounded by Cavaliers but was also flat out missing his receivers when he had time to throw. And running backs Terrell Newby and Donovan Lee weren't finding many open lanes to run through.
Serra is a run-dominant team, and passing is not quarterback Jalen Greene's biggest skill-set, so it was no surprise the Cavs weren't moving the ball in the air. But they were also finding the Eagles to be stubborn against the run as well.
Serra's points came on a 43- yard fake punt-and-run by Adoreé Jackson in the first quarter, and a 62-yard interception by linebacker Dwight Williams. Chaminade countered with a 24-yard touchdown run by Newby – one of the few times he broke free in the half – and a 78-yard punt return by Lee.
In the second half, Croson would alternate Kaaya and Reggie Reed at quarterback trying to find a hot passing hand. Neither developed one; Kaaya wound up 7-of-18 for 67 yards and two interceptions, while Reed's only pass attempt fell incomplete.
"We had one guy with one package, and the other guy with another package, and we (were looking) for the package that was hot," Croson said. "That's the way that went."
So Croson basically put Chaminade's hopes in Newby's hands, and the senior – who had rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 43 touchdowns entering the game – nearly pulled it off.
After Serra broke the tie in the third quarter on a 38-yard field goal by Max Palacios, Chaminade responded with its best drive of the evening, going 64 yards in seven plays. Newby ran six of them, and his 29-yard burst with 5:10 to play in the quarter gave the Eagles their first lead of the game, 21-17. On the night Newby ran for 171 yards on 28 carries.
That lead was short-lived, however. After setting up shop on their own 40, the Cavs drove back down the field, ending their seven-play drive on a 10- yard run by Malik Roberson, reclaiming the lead at 24-21 with 3:33 left in the quarter. Other trends were happening. The Cavaliers relentless running game was gaining a foothold against the Eagles defense. And with Chaminade unable to create a passing attack, the Serra defense began clamping down on the Eagles' ground game; on Chaminade's next two possessions, it was stopped by Serra each time on fourth down plays.
The crucial drive of the night for Serra came with 8:51 left to play in the game. Starting from its own 23, the Cavaliers' threepronged running attack of Greene (114 yards), Roberson (104 yards) and Marques Rodgers (43 yards) battered the Eagles' defensive until, six minutes later, the ball was at Chaminade's 3-yard line. Roberson ran it in from there for his second touchdown.
Although Serra muffed the extra point, the 30-21 lead looked very comfortable with 2:15 left in the game.
"Our last drive was huge for us, taking off six minutes on the clock and putting it in the end zone," Greene said. "That one drive defines this team." But no one could predict how those final, frantic 135 seconds would play out, especially when Kaaya hit Cody Holmes with a 48-yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds left. So the game remained in doubt until the Eagles came up short that one inch from having one final chance to win.
"We both have two good defenses. That's just the way it is," Altenberg said. "When our defense plays like that – and they have a great defense too, they gave us a lot of problems – I knew the game would come down to the last minute. And it did." Kaaya tried to shoulder most of the blame for the Eagles loss. "I made some mistakes. I threw a couple of picks and I own up to that. I blame myself tonight," he said.
Croson was more philosophical. "I'm proud of our guys. We were right there, and we did everything we could to win," he said "And I still don't know if we played our best game. So the younger guys will learn something from this.
"These kids are going to be okay, and they're going to learn a lesson from this. Unfortunately, we played well enough to win, and didn't walk away with a ring. That's the unfortunate thing. But I think they did a good job."
|Last Updated on Thursday, 06 December 2012 05:19|