When it comes to improbable endings, Thursday's high school football opener between defending City Section Division I champion Harbor City Narbonne and defending Northern Division champion Palos Verdes produced an off-the-chart finish.
Palos Verdes took a two-point lead with 33 seconds left after a one-yard touchdown run by Daniel DiRocco.
Narbonne got the ball back on its own 30 with 23.8 seconds remaining and a sophomore, Roman Ale, at quarterback after starter Eban Jackson was sidelined with a wrist injury. Ale completed a 41-yard pass to Dallas Lopez; then came an incompletion.
With 4.4 seconds remaining and on the final play of the game, the left-handed Ale rolled left and appeared on the verge of running out of bounds. But just before he reached the sideline, he fired the ball to the 6-foot-5 Lopez, who made a leaping catch at the three-yard line and fell into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown to give Narbonne a 27-23 victory.
Teammates from Narbonne engulfed Lopez on the sideline. Palos Verdes players wandered about wondering how they had let a seemingly certain victory slip away.
"For that to be my 100th win, what a memory," Narbonne Coach Manuel Douglas said. "I've never won one like that with a sophomore quarterback. It's never supposed to happen like that."
Lopez, a transfer from Wilmington Banning, caught three touchdown passes from Ale, whose uncle, Arnold Ale, was a standout at Carson in the 1980s. Twice, Lopez caught touchdown passes on fourth down from Ale, measuring 12 and 40 yards.
"He did phenomenal," Ale said of Lopez, who caught one touchdown pass last season at Banning. "My line gave me time. I just saw my wide receiver on the mismatch and threw it to him."
Said Lopez: "Roman put it where it had to be. It was crazy, man. I don't know how to describe it."
Ale completed 18 of 25 passes for 178 yards. Lopez caught seven passes for 140 yards.
Narbonne's Jackson sustained a fracture to the wrist of his non-throwing arm and will be out four to six weeks.
Both schools returned a fumble for a touchdown and had more than 100 yards in penalties. But the ending won't soon be forgotten by either side.
"You never give up until the game is over," Ale said.