Hart-Breaking Finish Kicks Up a Lively Debate

Armchair quarterbacks, rejoice!

Break out the chips, dip and the remote control, and put on your second-guessing caps.

Two crucial decisions by prominent area coaches who shall remain nameless (OK, they're Hart High's Mike Herrington and Buena's Rick Scott) in the closing moments of Friday night's playoff quarterfinals are the latest subject of scrutiny.

One coach's decision ended up not costing his team; the other, well. . . .

Let's start with the bad news.

Second-guessers can debate endlessly Herrington's rationale in the closing moments of the Indians' two losses this season.

But critics must agree on one thing: At least Hart's fifth-year coach has given them plenty to discuss.

Friday night in the Indians' 44-42 Southern Section Division II loss to Compton Dominguez, Hart's last-minute drive ended at the Dominguez five-yard line as time expired.

Hart had a first down at the Dons' nine-yard line with 25 seconds left and no timeouts. The Indians could have brought kicker Matt Kohl on to attempt a 26-yard field goal--little more than an extra point--for the victory.

But they passed on the kick and elected to take two more shots at the end zone.

Quarterback Mike Kocicka--though reminded one play earlier by offensive coordinator Dean Herrington that the Indians were out of timeouts and that he had to throw the ball--chose to run.

"I think I got caught up with all the emotion and took off too early," Kocicka said. "I made a bad read running the ball at the end. If I had thrown it, at least I could have thrown it out of bounds (and stopped the clock)."

He was tackled at the five-yard line and the Indians could not run another play before the final gun.

Hart (10-2), whose only previous loss was by one point to powerful Rialto Eisenhower (more on that later), was suddenly done for the season.

Since hindsight is 20-20 (as armchair types know), did Herrington in retrospect wish he had attempted the field goal?

"Not at all," he said. "If we went for the field goal and missed it, a lot of people would be second-guessing, 'Why not go for the end zone?' " Herrington said. "Now people are going to be second-guessing: 'Why didn't you go for the field goal?'

"Even though Matt was having a great game kicking (six for six on extra points), he hasn't been the most consistent kicker. In games and in practices, he's been struggling a bit.

"But it's easy to sit back and be the armchair quarterback and try to figure those things out."

For the record, Kohl made 49 of 56 extra points this season, leading the Valley area in kicks made. He also made two of four field-goal attempts.

Herrington and his staff had to deal with similar questions earlier this season.

On Oct. 8 against nationally ranked Eisenhower, the Indians scored a touchdown with less than three minutes to play to draw to within 15-14. Down by one point against the second-ranked team in the nation (according to USA Today), Herrington elected to attempt the extra point and tie the score, rather than go for the two-point conversion and the lead.

His thinking?

Eisenhower, needing a victory to preserve its hopes for the mythical national championship, would be forced to pass--not the Eagles' strength. Hart could then stop their passing attack, regain possession and drive for a winning score.

Ah, fate. Those plans were dashed when a bad snap caused Kohl to miss the extra point, and Eisenhower ran out the clock.

Eagle Coach Tom Hoak was asked after the game what he would have done had he been in Herrington's shoes.

"Oh, I would have gone for (the two-point conversion)," he replied.

Hart fans wondered then why Herrington didn't do the same.

"All the parents I talked to were like, 'Why didn't you go for two? Why didn't you go for two?' " Hart wide receiver Soren Halladay said.

Herrington, whose teams are known for offense, may find himself similarly on the defensive in the coming days.

"I think he will," Kocicka said. "People are going to say, 'He should have kicked the field goal.' "But that's what separates coaches from people," Kocicka said. "Coaches really know what's going on. There's a big difference between actually coaching and sitting in the stands, and that's what a lot of people don't understand."

Herrington understands it well enough.

"It's a tough business," he said. "But there's a lot of good moments, too. And I wouldn't trade those for the world."


Maybe Herrington would trade places with Buena's Scott for a day, though.

Late in the Bulldogs' game against West Covina, the score was tied, 21-21. Buena had a fourth-and-goal play at West Covina's one-yard line in the final seconds.

A perfect time for a game-winning field goal, right?

Not for Scott, who (coincidentally?) used to coach at Hart, where Mike Herrington was his top assistant.

"I figured, 'Aw, heck. Fourth down with four seconds to go,' " Scott said. "We were running the ball well. We're big up front and we've got the best back in the state (George Keiaho)."

Plus, Buena kicker James Hammer had missed all three of his field-goal attempts earlier in the game--and four of five for the season.

Plus, Hammer is a sophomore.

Plus, the wind was howling and the ball was on the extreme right hash mark.

Plus, Scott had watched plenty of film of West Covina blocking kicks and returning them for touchdowns.

"Our kicking game has been our Achilles' heel all season," Scott said. "I didn't want to take any chances. Plus, you don't want to put that pressure on a sophomore kid."

So Scott gave the ball to Keiaho, who rushed for 309 yards and a touchdown in the game. West Covina stacked up him at the one and time ran out.

But fate dealt Scott and Buena a kinder hand than it did Herrington and Hart.

In the tiebreaker, West Covina scored a touchdown but botched the extra point.

Buena scored to tie it, 27-27, and Hammer trotted on to kick the decisive extra point.

That sophomore Scott wanted to protect from pressure had the weight of the game on his shoulders.

He split the uprights. Buena won, 28-27, advanced to the Division III semifinals, and Scott breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"I know there's all the Monday morning quarterbacks who think I'm crazy," he said. "But they're not at practice every day."

Of course not--that would mean getting up from the armchairs.

"There were so many people who had never seen a CIF tiebreaker," Scott said. "So I thought I'd give them an opportunity."


One area coach did actually attempt a game-winning field goal.

And guess what? It worked.

Crespi Coach Tim Lins called on senior Mark Herz with the score tied, 21-21, in a Division I tiebreaker against San Clemente.

No matter that Herz missed a 37-yard attempt earlier in the contest.

"As a matter of fact, I did have (confidence in Herz)," Lins said.

Herz, a soccer player who went out for football at the beginning of this season ("Coach told me he needed a kicker, so I thought I'd give it a shot," he said), booted a 24-yarder to win the game.

See how easy it can be?

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World