The Tide from the west side rolled into Sunnyside Stadium on Friday night, filling the parking lot 2 hours before kickoff, stuffing the north-side permanent bleachers, spilling over to portables as well, and hoping for something that last happened 39 years ago.
They got it, and likely more.
Kamron Lewis caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Swearingen with 6 minutes, 2 seconds remaining before intercepting a Hail Mary attempt in the final seconds as top-seeded Edison defeated No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield 21-14 for the Central Section Division I title before 7,000 fans.
It was not only the Tigers’ first top division football championship in 39 years, it likely will advance them to a Southern California Regional Championship Bowl.
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That invitation is expected to come Sunday.
Maybe Matt Johnson’s tears will have dried by then.
“When your plan comes together,” Edison’s second-year coach and former longtime assistant said, voice breaking, “when your goal comes together, you can’t do anything else but cry. I will carry this one with me the rest of my life.”
Tim McDonald’s former deputy in the program invited mega pressure by establishing far back in August that nothing less than the D-I title would be enough — not a County/Metro Athletic Conference crown, not a winning record, not lofty rankings, nothing less — for a program that had won only section D-II titles (2002, ’09) since beating Bullard 13-0 for the Yosemite Division championship in 1975.
And, speaking of pressure: There it was, yet again, for the Tigers with the score 14-14 in the fourth quarter and an epic battle with Liberty (10-3), which went unbeaten in the Southwest Yosemite League.
And this against a Patriots team that opened its season in late August with an 18-7 win over Mission Viejo, which is 11-2 and ranked 14th in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
“I had no doubt,” said Edison cornerback Tyler Horton, who stoned Liberty star receiver Braylin Scott to the tune of two catches for 32 yards. “We’ve been in times like this; we like times like this.”
The late stage dripping with drama came a week after the Tigers had rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the final 7 minutes at the same venue to stun Clovis 21-14 in the semifinals. And it came three months after Edison had come from 14-0 at halftime to defeat defending D-I section and state champion Bakersfield 15-14 at Ratcliffe Stadium.
The Tigers faced third-and-9 on their 37 when Swearingen, seeing that his intended target, Juwan Murphy, was covered, reached back and launched one toward the stars.
Lewis, who had beaten Scott badly, caught it in stride and raced the final 20 yards for the touchdown.
When the ball was in the air, Lewis was thinking: “Just get in the end zone, baby.”
He did, Jose Esparza — filling for an injured Bill Xiong (shoulder) — kicked the conversion and it was 21-14 Edison with 6:02 to go.
Then the Tigers fans — sitting, standing, even watching outside the stadium from behind the chain-link fence behind the east end zone — watched the team’s defense deposit their 12th win against one loss.
And that was fitting because, for all of Edison’s spectacular offensive plays along the way, defense has provided the foundation.
To the wire, Horton continued to command Scott, who averaged 25 yards a catch and had nine touchdowns coming in.
“I just had to be confident, trust my ability and trust my skills,” said Horton, a major college recruit on a team loaded with them.
“Our college guys,” Johnson said, “played like college guys.”
Tigers lineman Leevel Tatum and linebacker Vance Sams also made big plays in the final minutes.
Yet the Tigers received a gift when Patriots quarterback Jordan Love, on second-and-10 from the Edison 30, took his eye off the snap in shotgun formation in what resulted in a 16-yard loss.
Two plays later, Lewis intercepted the Hail Mary near the end zone.
It was also there that Horton soared in front of Liberty wide receiver Matt Hubble to pilfer Love late in the first quarter.
Edison, in the third quarter, also had safety A.J. Greeley strip Hubble, with Chris Allison recovering and returning it 70 yards to the 1. Khai Williams scored his second touchdown on the next play for a 14-7 lead.
Liberty 1,183-yard, 17-touchdown running back Anthony Mariscal was held to 67 yards on 19 carries. He had 8 yards at the half.
“I knew we had to deliver or we would be right back to square one,” Johnson said. “We put that much pressure on ourselves, but we delivered.”