Down by seven points with 3:40 to play, the Glendale High football team had time for a game-winning drive.
As it had the entire second half, La Cañada's defense had to make a stop. It came in the form of a bone-crushing tackle for no gain from Spartans linebacker Michael Greenberg, who also had a third-quarter interception in the game, on fourth-and-two at La Cañada's own 31.
PHOTOS: Glendale vs. La Canada non-league football
“I told my lineman, Guillermo Padilla, to go right because I knew it was coming inside,” Greenberg said. “I saw him get the ball and I just knew exactly what to do. It felt really good, the game was pretty much over.”
The Nitros turned the ball over on downs and gave the Spartans possession with 1:16 to play, allowing them to line up in victory formation and take two knees to run out the clock for the 27-20 win at Moyse Field Friday night.
Greenberg drew high praise from his and the Spartans second-year Coach James Sims.
“The interception was amazing, the hit in the backfield; Greenberg really stepped up,” Sims said, “That’s what I’ve asked of the seniors, I had a meeting with them and I told them we’re going to go as far as they take us and they have to be leaders. Today they showed up.”
Not only did the victory give La Cañada revenge for last year's home loss to Glendale, 21-3, but gave it a 2-0 start for the first time in three years.
“This was a really big game for us because it could have been a turning point, it could’ve went either way,” Greenberg said of the 2-0 start. “Last year, we lost it and the season pretty much went downhill, so it means a lot to win this game.”
Down, 20-13, at halftime, La Cañada came out in the second half and marched 70 yards down the field on 13 plays for a touchdown that took 5:57 off the clock. Robbie Fuelling was the one who scored on a one-yard quarterback keeper, tying the game at 20.
The Spartans kept the drive alive by converting two fourth downs, once from one yard out and another from seven. Fuelling picked it up each time, first on a three-yard keeper and then on a 12-yard strike to tight end Todd Murray.
“We went in at halftime and I told him it was a good situation we were down because we needed to face adversity this year,” Sims said. “We stuck to our game plan, I said we were going to run the football and we stuck to it and made some adjustments. I watched the film from last year, watched how they defended us and I knew we could be successful, so it worked out.”
Glendale's next drive was derailed by two penalties and it punted the ball away at the 50 on fourth-and-27. That allowed the Spartans to take their first lead since the first quarter and cap the scoring when Donnie Breneman (51 yards on six carries) scored on a four-yard run with 10:15 remaining.
The Nitros’ next drive was stopped in two plays on Greenberg’s interception at Glendale’s own 35-yard line with 9:18 to play. The Spartans took two minutes off the clock but missed a 27-yard field goal, which would have iced the game.
Glendale (1-1) couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, as it was held to a three-and-out with 6:36 to go. La Cañada turned the ball back over on downs at its own 49 with about four minutes left to keep the drama alive.
The Nitros drove to the 31 on five plays, but holding and illegal procedure penalties kept them back pedaling and ultimately set up Greenberg’s big stop.
“I think offensively, penalties hurt us,” said Glendale Coach John Tuttle, whose team was penalized five times for 45 yards in the second half. “I think the effort was there but those penalties just really hurt.”
Glendale’s second-half offensive woes could be traced back to the injury of its No. 1 running back Daniel Jung, who had two touchdowns and 64 yards in 11 carries before coming out of the game with an injury late in the first half. Luis Ruiz proved a nice replacement with 86 yards and a touchdown in 12 carries but also missed some plays with injuries of his own.
Nitros quarterback Kevin Felix completed 10 of 16 passes for 146 yards. His favorite receiver, Martin Marin, had eight receptions for 131 yards.
After struggling in the running game in their opener, the Spartans rushed effectively Friday. Jadon Henry logged 102 yards on four attempts after breaking an 80-yarder and Mario Martinez scored two touchdowns and logged 114 yards with a team-high 20 carries.
“Sensational sophomore, the super sophomore, he runs that ball like nobody else,” Sims said of Martinez. “He lowers that shoulder and runs. He’s going to be a great one.”