A year ago at this time, Mira Costa running back Ronnie Hand was a football wallflower. As usual, the Mustangs had failed to qualify for the big dance, otherwise known as the playoffs.
But there was Hand on Friday night, kicking up his heels and performing an impromtu jig on the Mira Costa field in celebration of the Mustangs' 15-8 victory over Lompoc in the Southern Section Division VII quarterfinals. The 5-foot-6 senior led all rushers with 100 yards, 41 coming on a drive that used up the game's final four minutes.
"I'm a little excited," Hand said. "It's a dream come true."
Who, though, in their wildest dreams, could have envisioned a season like this?
With Friday's victory, Mira Costa (11-1) advanced to the semifinals for the first time in school history. The Mustangs will play Saturday night at second-seeded La Palma Kennedy (11-1), which defeated previously unbeaten Montclair Prep, 28-7.
Mira Costa had won a total of seven games in the previous two seasons. But under Coach Don Morrow, who came over from South Torrance last spring, the Mustangs have parlayed a physical running game and aggressive defense into a winning combination.
"I think they're comparable to a Santa Barbara, a San Marcos, a Division III-type team," Lompoc Coach Robin Luken said. "They're big up front and physical."
But a smaller Lompoc team did not go quietly. The Braves (8-4), taking advantage of two Mustang turnovers, drove inside the Mira Costa 35-yard line twice in the final six minutes, only to come away empty-handed when they failed to convert on two fourth-down passes with receivers open. One was dropped, the other overthrown by backup quarterback David Ornelas under a heavy rush.
Another Lompoc drive ended at the Mira Costa 31 late in the third quarter when, on fourth and three, linebacker Casey Glynn intercepted a pass by Brave quarterback Nick Terrones, who did not return after being shaken up midway through the fourth quarter.
"Never a dull moment," Morrow said of the scoreless second half.
Mira Costa took the lead for good late in the second quarter after Lompoc had marched 99 yards in 18 plays to score a touchdown and two-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
Dino Rossi returned the kickoff 66 yards to the Lompoc 19, and three plays later fullback Phil Fonua scored on a one-yard dive with 1:24 left in the half. He added a two-point conversion to make it 15-8.
Luken, the Lompoc coach, was impressed by Fonua, a 6-2, 275-pound junior whose two-touchdown game at fullback was exceeded by his dominant play at defensive tackle.
"(Fonua) was eating us up on the inside," Luken said. "We couldn't run anything between the tackles. He played a great football game."
With its second playoff victory, Mira Costa surpassed the accomplishments of the 1976 Mustang team, previously the most successful in school history.
The 1976 team, which won its playoff opener before losing to Lompoc in the quarterfinals, featured quarterback-linebacker Daryl Lyon, son of former Rolling Hills coach and current Peninsula assistant Dwaine Lyon, and tight end-linebacker Jeff Rohrer, who later played for Yale and the Dallas Cowboys. The Mustangs were coached by Steve Anderson, a Manhattan Beach lawyer and the current mayor of Hawthorne.
ROBBING A CROOK
Statistics can be deceiving, as was the case Friday night when Westlake quarterback Kevin Crook passed for 308 yards against Hawthorne in a Division III quarterfinal game.
Despite Crook's impressive numbers, it was the Hawthorne defense that stole the spotlight in a 24-22 Cougar victory at Thousand Oaks High. Hawthorne (11-1) will play host to Ventura Buena (9-3) in the semifinals Friday night.
The Cougars intercepted three of Crook's passes, two by cornerback Kelvin Hunter, and allowed him to complete only 17 of 41 attempts. Hawthorne's risk-taking secondary got burned a few times, but made big plays, too.
"We played man defense on all but four plays, and that is why it's a chance-type defense," Hawthorne Coach Dan Robbins said. "We had a lot of balls go through our fingers, so we could have had a few more interceptions."
The 5-11 Hunter was assigned to Westlake wide receiver Billy Miller, who is 6-3. Miller used his height advantage to catch seven passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, but Hunter felt he got the best of him.
"He's a good receiver and I had to put all my energy into covering him," said Hunter, who leads Hawthorne with seven interceptions. "I felt like I had to take some chances with him."
Miller got the better of Hunter, and the Hawthorne defense, early in the game when he turned a short pass into a 59-yard touchdown on Westlake's opening drive. However, Hawthorne held the Warriors (8-3-1) to 33 yards the rest of the half and took a 10-7 lead. Linebacker Raul Sanchez scored the Cougars' first points by returning a Crook fumble 38 yards for a TD.
Hawthorne built its lead to 17-7 on its first possession of the second half when fullback Kalisi Moala scored on a four-yard run. Tailback Eric Chaney followed three minutes later with a 56-yard TD run, making the score 24-7.
WASTE OF TIME
Peninsula was still trying to figure out what had happened after time ran out in a 20-17 loss to host Bell Gardens in the Division III quarterfinals.
Panther Coach Gary Kimbrell was angry because he thought the clock should have been stopped after a Bell Gardens penalty in the final minute of play.
Bell Gardens led, 20-17, and had the ball second-and-seven at its own 27 with 54 seconds left. Bell Gardens allowed the clock to run and was penalized before it could get a play off, apparently for delay of game, with 29 seconds left.
But after an official walked off the five-yard penalty, the clock was started and ran to five seconds, when Bell Gardens (9-2-1) snapped the ball and ran out the clock.
Peninsula (10-2) was left with one timeout and plenty of questions.
"The clock should have been stopped," Kimbrell said. "I'd like to ask the timekeeper what the hell he was thinking. We should have had 25 seconds."
Some observers said the penalty was actually for illegal procedure, which meant the clock would have started once the ball was set. In the confusion, Peninsula failed to use its final timeout. Officials refused to comment.
"We expected the clock to stop," Kimbrell said. "(We were going to) let them run a play, and then call the timeout to set up our punt block."
After a few minutes, Kimbrell cooled off and took the blame for the loss. Peninsula rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit, but came up short.
"We blew the game offensively," he said. "We didn't start blocking or running until the second half."
HIDE AND SEEK
Bell Gardens did all of its scoring in the first half, when Peninsula gained six yards, lost a fumble and punted three times.
"We weren't ready to play and they were," Peninsula offensive tackle Matt Redman said.
In the second half, the Panthers gained 171 yards and nearly pulled out a victory.
"The coach was more creative in the second half," tight end Keith Harter said.
In addition to passing more, Peninsula effectively ran counters and reverses against an aggressive Bell Gardens defense. Kimbrell also used a trick play on special teams after the Panthers pulled within 20-17 on a 32-yard tipped touchdown pass from quarterback Peter Krogh to tight end Chris Chapman in the fourth quarter.
On the kickoff, Peninsula shifted all of its players to the right except for Greg Hall, who stood near the left sideline and blended in with the Panther bench. Harter kicked the ball in Hall's direction, surprising Bell Gardens, and Hall recovered at the Bell Gardens 45.
But Peninsula couldn't capitalize. Krogh was sacked for an 11-yard loss and the Panthers punted after three downs with 2:54 remaining. They never got the ball back.
Mike Walsh thought he had seen it all.
The San Pedro coach watched game films of Roosevelt, the Pirates' opponent Wednesday in the City Section 3-A Division quarterfinals, from the first week of the season. Then he watched a video of Roosevelt's first-round playoff victory over Grant. Nothing new.
Walsh, however, was in for a surprise when Roosevelt lined up in a different offensive-line formation on its first series in San Pedro's 16-0 victory at Daniels Field.
"They did the same thing all year, and in Week No. 12 they came out with something new," Walsh said. "We didn't know what they were doing at first and we couldn't stop the run. They really fooled us."
Roosevelt running back Juan Rodriguez rushed for 46 of his team-high 70 yards on the first series, including a 29-yard gain, before San Pedro defensive back Bryan Castaneda recovered a Rodriguez fumble at the Pirate two-yard line.
Castaneda also had two interceptions, bringing his season total to six.
Junior Joseph Redmond set Carson season records for most punt returns and kick returns for touchdowns in a 61-14 victory over Garfield in the 4-A Division quarterfinals Wednesday.
Redmond returned a punt 52 yards for a TD in the second quarter, giving him three scoring punt returns and four scoring kick returns (punts and kickoffs) this season. Former New York Jet wide receiver Wesley Walker had set the previous records in 1972.
Redmond, who plays wingback and defensive back, leads Carson (8-4) with 1,237 all-purpose yards and 10 TDs.
* Peninsula tailback James Durroh, who has had trouble recovering from injuries, sat out a 20-17 loss to Bell Gardens because of a bruised ankle. Durroh was injured in the second quarter last week against Diamond Bar. In his place, Tony Persichina was held to 12 yards in nine carries after rushing for 190 yards last week.
* Masada, behind the rushing of running backs Reggie Williams and Glenn Gates, came from behind for the third consecutive week to defeat Shandon, 26-22, at El Camino College and qualify for its first Eight-Man Small Division championship game Friday at top-seeded Bloomington Christian.
* Carson gained 504 yards (252 rushing, 252 passing) in a 61-14 victory over Garfield, the fifth-highest yardage total in school history. The Colt record is 615 yards against Crenshaw in 1990.
* Top-seeded San Pedro (11-1), which has won seven games in a row, has not given up a point in two 3-A Division playoff games, outscoring Chatsworth and Roosevelt, 45-0. The Pirates have given up only 20 points in the past seven games, including four shutouts.
* San Pedro kicker Mike DiMassa kicked a 43-yard field gold, his fifth in six attempts this season, in a 16-0 victory over Roosevelt.
Lompoc Coach Robin Luken, comparing his team to larger Mira Costa after a 15-8 defeat: "A Volkswagen and a mac truck just don't mix."
Peninsula Coach Gary Kimbrell after losing to Bell Gardens in the Division III quarterfinals for the second year in a row: "Bell Gardens is a tough team. They kicked our butt last year and they did it again."