SAN DIEGO SECTION FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS : Defense Prevails for El Camino, Point Loma : 2-A championship: El Camino shuts down La Jolla, Watson en route to a 29-7 victory and its third consecutive title.
The scoreboard read El Camino 29, La Jolla 7, Saturday night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. But as the final seconds ticked away on a third consecutive San Diego Section Championship for the Wildcats, the El Camino sideline was not quite ready to celebrate.
As Coach Herb Meyer neared his eighth Section title and his sixth at El Camino, there were players with almost grim looks on their faces and assistant coaches barking out instructions.
Meyer could not force himself to break a smile. That could wait.
Meyer was still coaching--calling a fake punt with 1:05 remaining. The only hint that El Camino’s sideline was the winning one came from their fans, who chanted, “Three-peat, three-peat.”
Once the game ended Meyer was hoisted on his players’ shoulders. Finally, he could be seen smiling.
“A lot of our attitude comes from winning three times in a row,” El Camino linebacker Daniel Esposito said. “We’re used to it. We’re happy we won. But we’re expected to.”
El Camino linebacker Abdul McCullough, who turned the game around with his 61-yard touchdown on the return of a fumble, said the victory was a relief.
“I’m glad this season’s over,” he said. “The pressure was amazing all year.”
The Wildcats finished 13-1, losing only to Mission Viejo, 14-7, in the third week of the season.
“We were ranked No. 1 in the state before the season and we had a lot to live up to,” McCullough said. “We also had to live up to the El Camino tradition. Naturally, we get a lot of pressure because everyone expects El Camino is the team to beat. But we just played football and did what we could.”
Which was plenty. El Camino’s defense forced six turnovers and held La Jolla running back E.J. Watson to 94 yards on 21 carries without a touchdown. Watson rushed for 370 yards against San Pasqual last week and reached the end zone seven times.
Watson’s longest run from scrimmage Saturday was 23 yards. He actually did more damage with his arm, completing two halfback option passes for 79 yards. One of the passes went 38 yards to John Zuanich for La Jolla’s only touchdown.
Said McCullough: “The coaches said, ‘Don’t worry about him. He’s just a back. He’s not Superman.’ He got his yards, but he didn’t score. He didn’t break any super, super long plays.”
Much of Watson’s ineffectiveness can be directly attributed to McCullough, who followed Watson’s every step.
“McCullough keyed on him pretty heavy,” La Jolla Coach Dick Huddleston said. “He’s a great player.”
Said Watson: “We shot ourselves in the foot, but the El Camino defense was getting after us.”
McCullough’s biggest play came with 1:31 remaining in the second quarter and his team ahead, 13-0. After tackle John Moore jarred the ball loose from La Jolla quarterback Andy Anello, McCullough was right there to scoop it up.
“My coaches call me the garbage man,” said McCullough, who has scored nine touchdowns on defense in two years, five on fumble recoveries and four on interception returns. “I saw that he dropped the ball. I said, “Hey, I can pick it up.’ I knew if I picked it up, I was scoring. I saw all end zone. Last year (in the finals), I was jogging. The guy tackled me from behind and grabbed my legs. I kind of got even.”
La Jolla (13-1) was haunted by turnovers all night. Its first, an interception by El Camino safety Mike Flanagan, set up a 39-yard Noel Prefontaine field goal with 5:25 remaining in the first quarter. El Camino scored its first touchdown on a four-yard run by Esposito that capped a 66-yard, nine-play drive.
Prefontaine kicked two more field goals, from 43 and 37 yards, to make it 22-0 at halftime.
La Jolla scored its touchdown with 4:03 left in the third quarter to make it 22-7. But El Camino put the game out of reach by taking the ball 76 yards in nine plays. Senior tailback Mike Gee’s 15-yard run finished the drive.
Gee wound up with 168 yards in 22 carries.
But Gee refused to claim a victory over Watson.
“He’s a great back,” Gee said. “It’s not about who is the best. It’s about who had the better offensive line. Our offensive line just prevailed.”
For Huddleston, it was the second consecutive year his team has ended its season against El Camino. The Wildcats defeated La Jolla, 28-7, in the Section semifinals last year.
La Jolla is 23-3-1 in two years under Huddleston.
After the game, Huddleston could be heard telling his team just how painful the two losses to El Camino have been.
“I want to be back here and I want them,” said Huddleston, who kept his team in the locker room for 20 minutes before talking to reporters. “I’m tired of losing to those guys, 28 or 29 to seven.”
If La Jolla makes it back, don’t be surprised if it runs into El Camino again. The Wildcats have six starters back on defense and two on offense.
But as McCullough was told by Meyer two years ago, an offense can always be found.
“He told me when I was a sophomore, ‘Offense wins games, defense wins championships,’ ” McCullough said. “I think this defense won a championship.”