For much of the night during the CIF Division 2-A state championship, San Joaquin Memorial appeared to run into some type of roadblock.
Lawndale of Los Angeles County seemed to outplay the Panthers in just about every phase and was ready to ruin Memorial’s perfect season.
And yet, Memorial remained in striking distance with a chance to tie the game late.
But a controversial call regarding whether Memorial recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the final minute was denied, and Lawndale held onto a 20-12 victory to capture the state championship Saturday at Cerritos College.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know there’s always human error (in officiating),” Memorial coach Anthony Goston said. “But when it’s a state championship, mistakes are magnified and can change a game.”
On fourth-and-goal from the Lawndale 1 1/2-yard line, Memorial quarterback Alec Trujillo tried to run in a score.
Trujillo was stopped near the 1.
In the process of fighting for extra yards, though, the Panthers senior lost the football but recovered the fumble in the end zone.
It would’ve been the touchdown the Panthers desperately needed to allow themselves the opportunity to tie the game with an ensuing two-point conversion.
But officials ruled Trujillo down before he fumbled.
Goston said he didn’t speak with officials after the game.
The overruled fumble recovery wasn’t the only call that didn’t exactly sit well with Memorial.
Late in the third quarter, Lawndale was credited with a safety when Memorial punter Daniel Flores was ruled to have stepped on the back-end zone line.
Television replay appeared to refute that call, but the Cardinals were awarded two points and took a 14-6 lead.
“After the blown call on the safety — they said my guy stepped out and he clearly didn’t — they didn’t want to say much to me after the game,” Goston said. “We still had our chances. Just came up short.
“But you wonder, if the right call is made on the safety, how does it affect the rest of the game?”
Lawndale (14-2) went on to hold the Panthers (14-1) to a season-low in scoring. Memorial averaged nearly 50 points and 467 yards per game entering Saturday.
Cardinals running back Jordan Wilmore rushed for 208 yards and scored two touchdowns to help Lawndale celebrate its first state title.
Memorial was going for its first state championship, too, led by Trujillo, who passed for 4,253 yards and 50 touchdowns on the season.
But on this night, Trujillo threw for just 162 yards on 15-of-26 passes and was picked him off twice. Memorial was held under 40 points for only the second time on the year.
”We played sloppy on offense, and at the end of the game, we just couldn’t punch it in,” said Trujillo, who is committed to San Jose State.
Trailing 20-12 late in the fourth with less than a minute remaining, Memorial had the ball at the Cardinals 8.
Memorial had five chances to score but came up short.
On fourth-and-goal from the Lawndale 3, the Cardinals were called for a pass interference in the end zone.
Unlike the NFL and NCAA football, though, an automatic first down is not awarded on pass interference penalties near the goal in high school football under National Federation of State High School Associations rules.
The football does move up half the distance to the goal.
So with the ball on the 1 1/2-yard line on a repeated fourth down, Memorial called for Trujillo to run it in.
A costly call considering how the game essentially ended.
”We couldn’t get in rhythm tonight,” Goston said. “We were hurt by Jalen McMillan not being 100% (due to a rib injury). It was a great year and there is nothing to be sad about.”
Wilmore capped Lawndale’s opening drive of the game with a 10-yard TD run. The Cardinals missed the extra point but recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Six plays later, Wilmore, who is committed to USC, scored on a 15-yard run and placed Memorial in a 12-0 deficit.
Memorial took advantage of a short Lawndale punt early in the second quarter to get on the board. Trujillo scored on a one-yard TD run, but the Panthers had the PAT blocked and trailed 12-6.
Then came the phantom safety that put Lawndale up 14-6 before Trujillo completed a 12-yard TD pass to Mac Dalena with 6:11.
Memorial’s attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion, however, was denied when Trujillo was sacked. The Panthers trailed 14-12.
Lawndale then went on an eight play, 85-yard scoring drive, that culminated with a Jalon Daniels 16-yard touchdown run, giving the Cardinals a 20-12 lead with 2:01 left.
The Panthers were held to 160 yards of offense, opposed to Lawndale’s 438 yards.