Those who don't believe California high school football can match up against the likes of Texas and Florida needed to be at a packed Cerritos College on Friday night to watch the hard hits, big plays and pure athleticism on display in a Pac-5 Division semifinal between Long Beach Poly and Bellflower St. John Bosco.
There was Iosefo Savelio, a defensive lineman from St. John Bosco, stuffing Poly running back Jeremy Calhoun on a fourth-down run up the middle. There was Joseph Wicker of Poly thumping Clifford Simms to the ground on a fourth-down run. There was Dennis Willis of St. John Bosco inflicting a bone-jarring hit. There was Wicker sending Sean McGrew crashing to the turf.
In the end, the team with one Southern Section title, St. John Bosco, knocked off the 19-time champion Jackrabbits, 33-21, by rising up in the fourth quarter and getting physical play up front.
St. John Bosco (12-1) will play Corona Centennial, a 38-37 winner over La Puente Bishop Amat, in next Saturday's 8 p.m. final at Angel Stadium.
With St. John Bosco down, 21-20, Josh Rosen connected with Joey Chenoweth on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 7:58 left to give the Braves a 27-21 lead. Then the Braves turned to their offensive line, grinding the ball on the ground for another fourth-quarter drive until McGrew broke through for a game-clinching 21-yard touchdown run with 1:43 left.
"It's ridiculous, especially at the running back position, getting pounded every play," McGrew said. "This was a physical battle. In the third and fourth quarter, we were trying to wear them down."
Poly lost starting quarterback Josh Love to a hard hit early in the third quarter. Backup Tevaka Tuioti led an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive in the third quarter, with Jeremy Calhoun scoring on a nine-yard run. But Poly's offense lost its passing threat when Love went down, and it put too much pressure on Poly's defense to stop the Braves.
McGrew rushed for 166 yards in 25 carries. Rosen completed 12 of 16 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Love completed eight of 17 for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
St. John Bosco took a 20-14 halftime lead on the strength of a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown by Mykal Tolliver that broke a 14-14 deadlock. Each team had a fourth-down stop during the first half.
Love fired touchdown passes of 52 yards to Johnnie Rucker and 10 yards to Jackie Jones. Simms plunged one yard for a touchdown on fourth down and Rosen connected with Jared Harrell on a seven-yard touchdown pass.
Now get ready for more excitement. Centennial, which had to stop a two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds left to beat Bishop Amat, is the team that lost to St. John Bosco, 70-49, in last year's regional bowl final. It's more Pac-5 drama to come.