Jarod Smith wasn’t exactly elated when his 75-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage was called back on a motion penalty.
And the Esperanza High School slotback wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when he fumbled the ball after catching a 13-yard pass from Keith McDonald a few plays later.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen after I had messed up in the first half,” Smith said. “At halftime, the coaches told me to go out and just run.”
Smith did just that, running for three second-half touchdowns to lead Esperanza to a 25-7 victory over St. Paul in the Southern Section Division III championship game Saturday night at Cerritos College.
Smith, who had 46 yards in 11 carries, scored on runs of five, 16 and two yards in the second half as the Aztecs (14-0) capped the first perfect season in school history.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams that we’d be 14-0 right now,” Esperanza Coach Gary Meek said. “We set a goal to win two Southern Section games this year.”
They won four.
It was Esperanza’s first section title since 1979. The Aztecs lost in the finals in 1980, ’82 and ’84.
“This is a great team,” Meek said. “And this group is in some pretty fast company when you’re talking about winning.”
St. Paul (8-4-2) lost not only the game but also defensive back David Toruno, who apparently broke his leg while breaking up a pass in the end zone with 2 minutes 22 seconds left in the third quarter. The game was stopped for 15 minutes while officials waited for paramedics to arrive.
Two plays after Toruno was injured, Smith scored on a five-yard run to give Esperanza a 10-7 lead.
Smith scored his second touchdown on a 16-yard run around the right side with with eight minutes left in the game. Smith also ran in the two-point conversion, giving Esperanza an 18-3 lead.
The touchdown was set up by Esperanza defensive back Mark Parlin, who intercepted a pass by Al Borunda at the St. Paul 29-yard line and returned it to the 16.
Smith’s third touchdown run also was set up by an interception. Derrick Reaves intercepted a Borunda pass at the Esperanza 46, and the Aztecs drove 52 yards in six plays before Smith scored from two-yards out with 3:57 left in the game.
“We dominated St. Paul up front,” Meek said. “Our front seven did a great job, and when we forced them to throw, the secondary made some great plays.”
The Aztecs rolled up 109 yards total offense in the first half, but they couldn’t find their way into the end zone.
St. Paul had problems too, gaining only 56 yards total offense in the first half. The Swordsmen drove to Esperanza’s 15 late in the first quarter, but a sack by the Aztecs’ Josh Gale and a pass breakup by Jason Perez stalled the drive. Rick Camarena’s 44-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter fell five yards short.
Esperanza broke open a scoreless game late in the second quarter. The Aztecs got the ball at the Swordsmen 26-yard line with 39 seconds left in the first half after a 21-yard punt by Matt Lenzen.
A pass interference call on St. Paul’s Tom Vasquez and a 13-yard pass from Keith McDonald to Marcus Tayui gave Esperanza a first-and-goal at the St. Paul eight with 20 seconds left. After McDonald twice threw incomplete into the end zone, Clay King kicked a 25-yard field goal as time expired.
St. Paul took a 7-3 lead on the first possession of the second half. Shawn McKinney capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown run with 7:09 left in the third quarter.