Walnut’s late scores sink Los Amigos in CIF Division 13 quarterfinals
Los Amigos found itself in a playoff showdown Friday night that came down to a handful of plays. None of them fell the Lobos’ way, and so a promising campaign came to a finish a little earlier than hoped.
Walnut came up big when it mattered, again and again, and pulled out a 31-17 victory with a magnificent fourth quarter in a CIF Southern Section Division 13 quarterfinal at Bolsa Grande High School.
Sophomore Brenden Neeley, who came in with just two receptions all year, gave the visiting Mustangs (6-6) — Division 11 champions last year — a fourth-quarter lead with a nifty grab-and-dive, then returned an interception 66 yards for another score in the final minute to knock Los Amigos out and cement a semifinal assignment next week at home against San Bernardino (8-4).
“It’s unfortunate,” said Lobos head coach Romel Guess, whose team captured its second straight Garden Grove League co-championship. “The ball can’t always bounce your way. ... We fought like hell, man. A couple balls here and there didn’t go our way. I’m not one to take moral victories, so this one’s going to hurt.”
Los Amigos (7-5) moved the ball effectively on the ground and through the air (amassing 322 yards, 104 more than Walnut), and made defensive stops (conceding just one set of downs on three of the Mustangs’ seven possessions). It wasn’t enough to overcome the few pivotal moments.
The outcome, essentially, was decided in five, maybe six, plays:
• The fumble: The Lobos had answered their foe’s first-possession field goal with a quick touchdown drive capped by Pedro Hernandez’s 10-yard burst up the middle, stopped Walnut on three plays, and then pounced to midfield on a 41-yard Mesen Navarro-to-Chris Flores pass.
Next play, Hernandez takes the handoff and is immediately flattened by linebacker Dylan Perez, drops the ball before hitting the ground, and Perez picks it up at takes it to the 30. (Hernandez, Los Amigos’ top running back, lay prone for a few minutes; he returned to carry the ball twice on the next drive and not again.) Four plays later, Demetrius Stampley would score the first of his two touchdown runs, and the Mustangs found themselves back on top, 10-7.
• The missed opportunity: Los Amigos responded with a 15-play, eight-minute drive, converting twice on fourth down, to reach the Walnut 2. It got no farther. Linebacker David Aguilar came up big three successive times — dropping Hernandez for a 1-yard loss, stopping him for no gain, and slapping away an end-zone pass for Flores — and the Lobos settled for a 20-yard Miguel Radilla field goal with a little more than a minute left in the half.
• The long run: First play following the kickoff, Stampley makes a defender miss and is gone, a 67-yard touchdown sprint down the left sideline for a 17-10 advantage 49 seconds before the break. Guess called it “a gut shake.”
• The gamble that didn’t pay off: Los Amigos regained momentum in the third quarter, pulling even on the first drive, with Navarro’s 20-yard run followed by Isaac Galindo’s for 19 and then two 6-yard Raul Cruz gains, the second to tie the score.
A quick defensive stop follows, and the Lobos — bailed out by a third-and-20 Navarro completion to Galindo from the 2 — are again on the march. Walnut’s defense stiffens as the third quarter closes, and Guess decides to go for it on fourth-and-3 from his 41 to start the fourth. Navarro is dropped for a 3-yard loss, giving the Mustangs a short field.
• The winning touchdown: Walnut takes advantage of the field position, eating up seven and half minutes on a methodical drive that seems to end with a sweet 3-yard Noah Covarrubias swing pass for Stampley to catch at the goal line. A holding call cancels that, making it third-and-goal from the 13. Covarrubias promptly finds Neeley at the 8 on the left sideline, and he cuts inside to elude one defender, then streaks toward and leaps into the end zone.
• The end: Los Amigos had two opportunities to catch up. The first, right after the Walnut score, goes nowhere, and the last arrives with 72 seconds to go. Navarro hits Radilla for 14 yards and Flores for 16 to get to the Lobos 46. Neeley then comes up big, picking off a pass at his 34 and getting through traffic on the right sideline and hitting the end zone with 15 seconds to go.
That was that.
“I’m hurt,” whispered a teary Radilla, who also returns kicks and plays in the secondary. “We had an amazing group, but it’s playoffs, it’s got to happen to somebody, and, unfortunately, that somebody was us.”
Guess said getting past the defeat will take time.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys out here — a lot of of sophomores and juniors — who got a lot of valuable experience, and I think we’re built to win going forward for awhile,” he said. “That’s the positive, if you’re looking for any positives. But we fell short of our expectations, our goal, and I can’t get away from that, and that’s going to haunt me for a little bit.”
CIF Southern Section Division 13 quarterfinals
Walnut 31, Los Amigos 17
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Walnut 3 - 14 - 0 - 14 — 31
Los Amigos 7 - 3 - 7 - 0 — 17
W — FG 29 Heyman, 4:08.
LA — Hernandez 10 run (Radilla kick), 1:26.
W — Stampley 8 run (Heyman kick), 9:15.
LA — FG 20 Radilla, 1:04.
W — Stampley 67 run (Heyman kick), 0:49.
LA — Cruz 6 run (Radilla kick), 9:52.
W — Neeley 13 pass from Covarrubias (Heyman kick), 4:19.
W — Neeley 66 interception return (Heyman kick), 0:15.
W — Stampley 16-86, 2 TDs.
LA — Navarro 15-62.
W — Covarrubias 9-11-0-99-1.
LA — Navarro 10-20-1-182-0.
W — Neeley 4-38, 1 TD.
LA — Flores 6-121.
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