Before Saturday’s San Diego Section 3-A football championship, the Orange Glen coaching staff figured their best--and perhaps only--chance of stopping Morse’s explosive option attack was to move safety Ryan Gustine from safety to cornerback.
After all, Gustine was a first team all-Palomar League selection, and Coach Rob Gilster described him as the Patriots’ “best tackler.”
Best tackler? Best hope for stopping Morse?
Ryan Gustine is 5-feet-5. He weighs 150 pounds.
But Gustine, who wears No. 2, intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles, and he did so after severely twisting an ankle early in the second quarter.
At times on the San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium turf, there were guys weighing twice as much as Gustine, charging full speed hoping to knock him into the San Diego River. At other times, there were guys 10 inches taller than he, drooling at the line of scrimmage, waiting for the snap count so they could waltz past him for an easy catch and touchdown.
Gustine himself, the smallest player on either team, acknowledged being a bit frightened by the idea. He didn’t, however, back down.
Time after time, Gustine was there for the big play. Had the Orange Glen offense been able to take advantage of some of them, Orange Glen might have pulled off one of the biggest upsets in section history.
As it was, Morse High won, 28-7, but Gustine could hold his head high after his final high school football game.
“He came up with a couple of real nice plays,” Morse Coach John Shacklett said. “He kept us out of the end zone a couple of times.”
Indeed. Gustine’s first fumble recovery came at the Patriots’ seven-yard line early in the second quarter as Morse was looking to increase its 14-7 lead. On Morse’s next possession, Gustine intercepted Teddy Lawrence’s pass at the Orange Glen five and returned it 24 yards.
In the third quarter with the score still 14-7, Gustine recovered another fumble at midfield. Two minutes later, he intercepted another Lawrence pass at the Tiger 47.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Gustine said.
And that was Gilster’s game plan all along.