Jalen Chatman, helmet off, was catching his breath. The All-City quarterback had just helped Narbonne High pull off a remarkable 17-14 comeback victory over Gardena Serra on Friday night, but it was hard to celebrate with police everywhere.
“They sprayed something over there. I started coughing,” Chatman said outside the field gate among a crowd of people.
Fights were breaking out in the Narbonne stands throughout the fourth quarter. Then came a call, “Officer needs help,” according to Sgt. Doug Campbell of the Los Angeles Unified School Police. There was robust response from LAPD and school police, with sirens blaring and lights flashing from arriving police cars and a helicopter circling above. By the end of the game, there were 20 school police cars at Narbonne to help disperse fans, Campbell said.
These haven’t been the best of times for Narbonne, the City Section football power. During the summer, the Gauchos’ offense kept sputtering in passing tournaments. During a scrimmage last week against West Hills Chaminade, the defense couldn’t stop the run.
Narbonne was down 14-0 late in the third quarter. The Gauchos were in a trance. They needed something or someone to ignite a spark.
Out of nowhere, Demontti Peoples came up with an interception off Serra’s backup quarterback, returned it 34 yards for a touchdown and gave his team a bolt of energy.
Narbonne got a field goal from Edgar Ramos with 7:45 left to close to 14-10. Then Chatman scored on a one-yard plunge with 3:46 left for a 17-14 lead.
What turned the game around for the Gauchos was their offensive line winning the battle in the trenches. Led by left tackle Jonah Tauanu’u, Narbonne started to run the ball behind junior Keyshawn Dupree, who finished with 136 yards rushing. And sophomore Jack Brown had a decisive 43-yard run to set up Chatman’s touchdown.
The turn of events came despite passing struggles for Chatman, the reigning City Section player of the year. He was 13 for 30 for 108 yards. But what matters most for a quarterback is delivering victory, and his poise in the fourth quarter helped Narbonne win the South Bay rivalry game.
“We had to dig deep and pull it out,” Chatman siad.
Serra had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds. Kalen Thomas caught a 50-yard pass down to the Narbonne four-yard line. But the Gauchos’ defense forced Serra to settle for a field-goal attempt with 19 seconds left. The 27-yard try was no good.
For Serra, the cupboard never seems to be empty when it comes to football talent.
The Gauchos looked awestruck in the first half when Serra junior Max Williams pulled off a punt return reminiscent of Adoree’ Jackson, slipping three tackles and somehow ending up in the end zone to complete a 70-yard play.
Then there was Kobe Smith. He leaped up to take a pass away from a Narbonne defender, then kept on running for a 96-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.