“I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me,” said one of the many Banning football fans who stormed the Harbor College field Friday night following the Pilots’ miracle 26-21 win over Dorsey.
To be sure, seeing was the only way of believing.
Even wide receiver Lamont Shedrick, who caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Ma’ae with no time remaining to give Banning the win, had trouble accepting his team’s improbable comeback.
“I can’t believe it,” he said as a group of well-wishers surrounded him. “I’m still shocked.”
Banning Coach Joe Dominguez said he knew it would take something special for the Pilots to win after falling behind, 21-0, in the third quarter. What he didn’t know was how special.
The Pilots rallied for three consecutive touchdowns in the fourth quarter but failed on a two-point conversion pass after the third TD to leave Dorsey with a 21-20 lead with 3:48 remaining in the Southern League opener.
After forcing a punt, Banning appeared headed for a loss when a fourth-down pass by Ma’ae fell incomplete and Dorsey took over at the Pilots’ 19-yard line with 1:52 left.
“I didn’t think we were going to get the ball back,” Dominguez said.
He was wrong. After a personal foul penalty against Banning gave Dorsey a second-and-2 situation at the 11, the Dons were called for delay of game and then lost yardage on two straight plays, bringing up fourth-and-16 from the 25. Quarterback Roman Foster threw incomplete in the end zone, giving Banning possession with 23 seconds left and no timeouts.
That’s when Ma’ae and Shedrick went to work. They hooked up for completions of 24 and 13 yards, with a 5-yard offsides penalty against Dorsey in between, to move the ball to the Dorsey 33. Ma’ae then threw an out-of-bounds pass to stop the clock with 3 seconds left, leaving the Banning coaches to ponder whether they should go for a Hail Mary touchdown or let kicker Victor Manzano try a 50-yard field goal.
“I thought we might be close enough to hit a field goal,” Dominguez said. “I asked our kicking coach and he said, ‘No way.’ I just told John (Ma’ae) to put it up in the end zone and not worry about an interception.”
The play they’ll be talking about at Banning for a long time encountered trouble from the start. Ma’ae was momentarily trapped in the pocket, but he eluded a heavy rush by scrambling to the right.
Shedrick had run a pattern to the left corner of the end zone. When the play flowed away from him to the right, he was left alone. Ma’ae spotted him and threw a perfect strike on the run, setting off a celebration worthy of a championship game.
“I was just rolling out,” Ma’ae said. “The cornerback floated this way (to the right) and I saw Lamont all alone.”
Said Dominguez: “John Ma’ae did a great job. He got away from the rush and he had the sense to throw it in the right spot.”
Dorsey Co-Coach Paul Knox, who had the unenviable task of consoling his team, said the Dons’ biggest mistake was being penalized for delay of game after getting second-and-2 at the Banning 11 with under 2 minutes to play.
“We should have gone for the first down,” he said. “We tried to run a play, but we still got the delay (penalty).”
Knox said he wasn’t concerned about scoring because he felt his defense could stop Banning if it turned the ball over in the final seconds. Dorsey’s defense had not given up a point this season until the fourth quarter Friday night.
“Our defense has been good all year,” he said. “Even if (Banning) got the ball back, I figured they had to go 80 yards against our defense.”
Dorsey dominated most of the game, but the momentum shifted to Banning in the fourth quarter. The Pilots scored on a 5-yard run by tailback Keith Mims with 9:48 left, converted a Dorsey fumble into a 4-yard touchdown run by fullback Derek Sparks with 7:18 left and cut the deficit to one point on a 29-yard scoring pass from Ma’ae to Shedrick with 3:48 left.
“We weren’t able to control the ball in the second half,” Knox said. “We gave them good field position and they cashed in every time.”
Asked if it would be difficult to rebound from such a crushing defeat, Knox said: “I think we’ve got some tough kids. We’re never going to lie down.”
Dorsey (6-1, 0-1 in league play) faces Carson (7-1, 1-0) in another pivotal league game Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium, while Banning (7-1, 1-0) travels to Crenshaw (5-2, 0-1) for a 2:30 p.m. contest.
With quarterback Perry Klein walking the sidelines in street clothes because of a sprained ankle, Carson still had more than enough to defeat Crenshaw, 37-12, at Gardena High.
Fred Gatlin, the Colts’ other first-string quarterback, passed for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns to wide receiver Michael Ross. Klein, who was injured last week against Narbonne, is expected back for the Dorsey game.
Carson scored all its points in the first half, capitalizing on Crenshaw mistakes for its first nine points. A high snap on a punt led to a safety, and on the Cougars’ second possesssion linebacker Todd Auvaa scooped up a fumble by quarterback Derrick Williams and ran 7 yards for a TD.
El Segundo recorded its fifth consecutive shutout in Santa Fe League play and tailback/kicker Erik Evans increased his South Bay scoring lead with 4 touchdowns and 2 PATs in a 41-0 victory over Cantwell.
Evans has scored 132 points this season, more than 10 teams in the area--North Torrance (126), Ocean League leader Morningside (124), Miraleste (107), West Torrance (93), Gardena (92), San Pedro (90), Mira Costa (88), Torrance (67), Inglewood (55) and Narbonne (23).
El Segundo (8-0, 5-0 in league play) has outscored its Santa Fe opponents 137-0 and has won 12 straight regular-season games.
The competitive Bay League football race will be decided in the next two weeks as first-place Leuzinger (8-0, 5-0) plays host to Hawthorne (6-2, 4-1) on Friday night and Santa Monica (5-2, 4-1) on Nov. 11 in back-to-back showdowns. Hawthorne and Santa Monica are tied for second.
Another pivotal game takes place Friday afternoon when Beverly Hills (5-3, 2-3) plays host to Palos Verdes (6-2, 3-2). Either team has a good chance of making the playoffs by winning its final two league games.
Serra took over sole possession of first place in the Camino Real League with a 26-21 win over visiting Verbum Dei. Tailback Fred Safford scored the game-winning touchdown on an 11-yard run with 1:53 left as the Cavaliers improved to 5-3 overall and 3-0 in league play, one game ahead of Verbum Dei (5-3, 2-1).
Perhaps more importantly for Serra, at least from an image standpoint, was that the game was played cleanly and without incident. The Cavaliers had been criticized in recent weeks for rough play and fighting.