It was an hour before kickoff Friday night, Edison coach Matt Johnson stood outside his team’s locker room and said convincingly: “This is the tough one.”
Meaning, how to fully concentrate on Clovis and not peek around the corner to a potential Central Section Division I title game appearance next week?
Sure enough, the top-seeded Tigers scored all of their points in the final 7 minutes to escape 21-14 against the No. 5 Cougars at Sunnyside Stadium .
Linebacker Chris Allison made the play of the game on a strip and fumble recovery, Khai Williams rushed for two touchdowns and quarterback Hunter Swearingen ran for another for Edison (11-1), which will return to Sunnyside to play No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield (10-2) for the D-I gold at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Patriots, who won the Southwest Yosemite League with at 5-0, crushed defending champion Bakersfield 41-10 in the other D-I semifinal Friday.
Edison, which won D-II championships in 2002 and ’09, will be seeking its first section large schools title in 39 years — and the Tigers might never have had the opportunity without Allison’s heroics.
Edison, down 14-6, got the ball in prime field position after Allison stripped Clovis running back/linebacker Adam Prentice — one of the section’s elite players — and recovered the ball on the Cougars 33-yard line with 5:20 to play.
“I knocked the ball out of his hands, saw it, dived on it and got it between my legs,” Allison said. “It was close.”
The Tigers had scored a minute earlier on a 6-yard run by Williams, assisted by Kamron Lewis block on the right edge. But the conversion kick was blocked.
Following Allison’s recovery, a Cougars pass interference and Williams’ 12-yard run set up Swearingen’s 5-yard dash up the middle on a play the Tigers stacked four wide receivers to the right. Edison then tied it 14-14 on Swearingen’s conversion pass to A.J. Greeley with 4:35 to go.
Clovis, losing in the semis for the fourth time in five years, converted one first down before punting.
The Tigers took over on their 44 with 2:03 showing on the west scoreboard clock.
Swearingen’s 16-yard completion to Tyler Horton kick-started the winning march. Five plays later, Swearingen found Lewis on the right sideline and the senior made a dazzling one-on-one move before bolting to the 2.
And it was from there that Williams scored as Edison’s sideline exploded.
“I never had any doubt that we still had a chance,” Allison said. “I believe in my boys.”
Clovis (8-5) didn’t threaten on its final two plays, closing a heartbreaking night. Its defense featured Josh Hokit’s two interceptions on deflections, Hank Wiggins’ 40-yard interception return for a touchdown and dominance by linebackers Prentice — whose tips led to two of the thefts, including the score — and Lane Barnes.
The Cougars, who tied for second place in the Tri-River Athletic Conference before beating league rivals Clovis East (48-27) and Clovis North (28-17) to begin the playoffs, also scored on a 48-yard pass from Evan Geiger to Coltin Velasquez with 34 seconds remaining in the first half for a 14-0 lead.
“In the locker room at half I said, ‘We’ve been in water a lot deeper than this,’ ” Johnson said. “We know how to do it, we’re just not sure when it’s going to get done. We just stay the course.”
Tigers offensive tackle/middle linebacker Vance Sams Jr., a Bee Player of the Year candidate, hasn’t forgotten a one-point loss to Liberty-Bakersfield in a 7-on-7 passing tournament game at Fresno State in the summer: “We’ve been wanting them ever since.”