Like the see-saw scoring, emotions drastically swung back and forth between Memorial High and Southwest El Centro on Saturday night in a state football playoff game.
With the score tied in the final minutes, Memorial was ecstatic about making what appeared to be the most critical defensive stop of its season – preventing Southwest from scoring off a fumble recovery and forcing a punt.
The Panthers got the ball around their 40 with a minute to go – plenty of time to go for the win and keep alive their state championship dream.
“We were trying to be aggressive, hoped to make a couple of plays and move it down field to win it,” Memorial coach Anthony Goston said.
But on third-and-10, Memorial quarterback Alec Trujillo was pressured and hit as he threw what was supposed to be an out-pattern route to his slot receiver.
The contact disrupted the pass, which was picked off by Southwest’s Derek Guzman.
With about 20 seconds remaining, Sergio Ruiz nailed a 26-yard field goal and the Eagles had won 31-28, knocking out Memorial in the CIF State Division 4-A South Regional.
“Definitely didn’t see that coming,” Goston said. “When you’re in the moment, you’re thinking about what you’re going to do to score. We felt good.
“We got the ball where we wanted it. We weren’t thinking about the bad that could happen. It was shocking when it happened.”
Memorial (11-3) traveled the farthest among all of the 50 teams that participated in the state playoffs, about 430 miles, almost to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Panthers, who were coming off their first Central Section title since 2003, jumped in front 14-0 with 6:34 to go in the first quarter on touchdown runs by Leonard Glass and Justice Palms, but it was even after a quarter at 14-14 and again at 21-21 at halftime.
Trujillo tied the game at 28-28 in the fourth with a touchdown run.
The Panthers had a chance to take the lead midway through the final quarter but ended up fumbling at the Eagles 4.
Southwest EC (14-0), which had outscored opponents 561-115 entering the game, advances to host Milpitas (a 52-38 winner over Campolindo-Moraga) for the championship.
“This was a game we had opportunities to win,” Goston said. “We just made too many turnovers and you just can’t do that in a game like this.
“Ultimately, we accomplished a lot of our goals, and it was a good season. We just wanted to be state champs, too. Hopefully, we’ll get another shot again.”