IRVINE — A prevailing wind howled past the scoreboard and across the field for four quarters Friday night, whistling its impact through the Academy League football game between Sage Hill School and host Crean Lutheran.
In the end, however, it was the lack of wind in his team's sails that Lightning Coach J.R. Tolver said may have contributed most to Crean's 28-7 come-from-behind victory.
The win ended a 10-game league losing streak for the Saints (5-4, 1-1 in league), who used a punishing ground attack to earn the first league win in the program's four varsity seasons.
The loss dropped Sage Hill to 0-9, 0-2 and extended the Lightning's losing streak to 11 games, dating back to last season.
Sage appeared tired of coming up short, when it turned a 6-0 deficit into a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter.
Senior tailback Joe Melita bolted 60 yards off tackle for a touchdown on the first snap after a Crean kickoff followed its 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that opened the scoring as the first quarter expired. But Sage came up short on fourth-and-one at the Saints' two-yard line on its next possession and also squandered opportunities that came with collecting the game's only two turnovers. Crean senior tailback Blake Cox amassed 290 yards on 37 rushing attempts, including a 78-yard touchdown sprint near the end of the third quarter that put the hosts ahead, 16-7.
Sage's subsequent possession ended with a two-yard punt into the powerful wind and the Saints used just four plays to make their 24-yard procession to paydirt to take a commanding 22-7 lead.
Crean junior quarterback Adam Barrett produced rushing touchdowns of 59, six and one yards and finished with 122 yards on 12 rushing attempts. His 59-yard score came on a sneak on third-and-one. As he surged into a crowd that seemed to be on the verge of becoming a pile, he suddenly popped through and raced untouched to the end zone.
Predictably, both teams struggled through the air/wind. Sage failed to complete its first eight passes, before finishing three for 15 for 18 yards. Crean completed just one pass in four attempts, including an interception by Sage senior safety Harrison Ray.
Ray returned his pick six yards to the Crean 37-yard line with the Lightening trailing, 9-7, with 4:12 left in the third quarter. But after a penalty nullified what would have been a 26-yard screen pass to the Saints' 17, the drive fizzled and ended with a 26-yard punt.
On the next snap, Cox went 78 yards for the longest of bursts that nine times netted double-digit gains.
Ray caused a fumble that teammate Will Burns recovered to halt a second-quarter Crean drive at the Lightning 26-yard line. But Sage, which has never had a winless season and had never exceeded eight losses until now, found few highlights other than Melita's 211 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
"Winning is contagious, but so is losing," Tolver said. "This has been a tough year for the kids and coaches as well. I think sometimes things start going bad, and though it may not be as bad as it seems, that here-we-go-again attitude seeps in and it can take over … And I just felt that for a period of time there, we were playing to run time off the clock and not to make plays."
Crean Lutheran 28, Sage Hill 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Sage Hill 0 – 7 – 0 – 0 – 7
Crean 6 – 0 – 10 – 12 – 28
CL – Barrett 6 run (run failed), 0:00.
SH – Melita 60 run (Melita kick), 11:40.
CL – Tooker 27 FG, 7:22.
CL – Cox 78 run (Tooker kick), 2:02.
CL – Barrett 1 run (kick blocked), 10:12.
CL – Barrett 59 run (kick failed), 8:07.
SH – Melita, 22-211, 1 TD.
CL – Cox, 37-290, 1 TD; Barrett, 12-122, 3 TDs.
SH – McCord, 3-15-0, 18.
CL – Barrett, 1-4-1, 24.
SH – Fenner, 1-8.
CL – Kuntz, 1-24.