It was completely appropriate for Cody King to come up with the game-sealing play for the Immanuel High football team in the Northern California Regionals on Friday.
After all, King has helped turn the Eagles from Central Section doormat into CIF State Division V-AA finalist during his four varsity seasons.
King’s interception of a Kyle Wilburn pass with less than a minute to play put the finishing touches on Immanuel’s 31-21 victory over Bradshaw Christian. The Eagles (11-2) advance to the State Division V-AA final at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Mater Dei Catholic-Chula Vista. The Crusaders beat Notre Dame-Riverside 21-14 in the Southern California Regional bowl.
“I was thankful I got the opportunity,” said King, one of the leaders of a defense that held the Pride to 21 points, 25 below their average.
4 Turnovers forced by the Immanuel defense
Five years after a second consecutive 1-9 season, a low point for a proud small-schools football program, the Eagles put themselves in position to win a state title behind the arm of quarterback Caleb Paulson and a defense that came up with four turnovers.
The third turnover, a Ryan Case interception, came right after Viktor Cooper’s 26-yard field goal gave Immanuel a 31-21 edge with 3:02 left in the game.
At the beginning of the season, our goal was to win a Valley championship. I didn’t think we’d get this far. It’s crazy.
Immanuel’s Ryan Case
“I thought we had (the game sealed) right there, but we had to go back on the field and Cody finished it for us,” Case said. “I don’t know how to feel. At the beginning of the season, our goal was to win a Valley championship. I didn’t think we’d get this far. It’s crazy.”
Case helped the Eagles build a 21-14 lead at halftime when he snagged a Paulson pass, bounced off two defenders and trotted untouched the rest of the way for a 30-yard touchdown.
“I just tried to stay up,” said Case, who had 67 yards receiving and 52 rushing. “The play wasn’t over, so I bounced off and kept going.”
Immanuel stretched its lead to 28-14 in the third quarter on a 13-yard scoring pass that Adrian Jump snagged at the back of the end zone from Paulson, who completed 26 of his 43 passes for 282 yards.
“We thought we’d have to score with them, so we threw the football,” Eagles coach Matt Armstrong said. “Their defensive front is the best we’ve seen all year. We had to get the ball out quick and let our playmakers make plays. And we’re not afraid to do that. Paulson can sling it, and our offensive line did a great job. I was proud they could block those kids.”
Bradshaw Christian (11-3) scored on its first possession, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from Jared Kanipe.
Immanuel answered on its next possession on Kyle Dunigan’s 1-yard run. Dunigan added an 11-yard scoring run later in the first as the Eagles went up 14-7.
The Pride cut the gap to 21-14 when Case just missed a pass breakup that instead hit Phillip White for a 59-yard touchdown from Wilburn.
“When I took this job, (Immanuel superintendent) Ryan (Wood) and I talked about our commitment to getting to state championships,” said Armstrong, now in his fourth season. “This is a testament to our kids and how hard they have worked.”