Not since the opening game of the season had the Los Alamitos High football team experienced defeat.
That loss came at Vista Murrieta, a school renowned for its acumen in producing athletes with elite speed.
Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has a similar reputation, which perhaps is the reason why Griffins coach Ray Fenton said the Knights were nearly identical to Vista Murrieta.
It is sometimes said that speed kills, and Notre Dame made just enough plays to keep No. 4-seeded Los Alamitos at bay in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs on Friday night.
Christian Grubb rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and the Knights won the turnover battle in defeating the visiting Griffins 49-32.
Notre Dame (9-3) will host No. 1 Moreno Valley Rancho Verde (12-0) in the semifinals on Nov. 16.
Grubb started out slow. He had just 34 rushing yards and a lost fumble at halftime, but the Knights had taken a 23-7 lead into the break.
“I needed to know that I needed to stop tip-toeing around the holes before I ran through them,” Grubb said. “I need to just take every little hole I get. I need to run full speed at it.”
The senior running back emerged from the locker room to take a carry 56 yards to the end zone on the first drive of the second half.
Los Alamitos’ hopes appeared all but lost after a 49-yard touchdown pass from Cooper Meek to McKel Broussard put Notre Dame up 37-14 with 9:01 remaining.
The game took an exciting turn, however, as the Griffins (9-2-1) would score three unanswered touchdowns.
It began on the kickoff, as Demario King returned it 99 yards down the right sideline for the first score.
“I just have to thank my team,” King said. “Everyone did their jobs, so all I had to do was follow the lane to the end zone.”
Kenui Huey, who had a game-high 113 receiving yards on eight catches, scored from 10 yards out after making his defender miss a tackle. Los Alamitos trailed 37-26 with 4:25 to go.
After Notre Dame turned the ball over on downs deep in Los Alamitos territory, the Griffins took just 55 seconds to get down field again. King outjumped his defender to reel in a 31-yard touchdown at the right pylon.
The Griffins lined up for an onside kick. Justin Horton picked up the ball before it went 10 yards, returning it for a 48-yard touchdown to put the Knights back in control.
On the next Los Alamitos possession, Sean Guyton wound up with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown, his second of the game.
“Our coach made us send blitzes, so that put pressure on the quarterback,” Guyton said. “They had tall receivers, so I was expecting them to throw deep a lot. I read it, so I knew who [Cade McConnell] was going to throw it to.”
Under constant duress, McConnell threw five interceptions. The junior was also called for intentional grounding inside of his own 10-yard line in the second quarter, which led to a safety for the Knights’ defense when Jaiden Mitchell was tackled in the end zone.
Los Alamitos began with a bang, as Huey reversed field on a 75-yard kickoff return down to the Notre Dame 23. Huey brought in a 15-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage, and King rushed up the middle for an eight-yard touchdown just 48 seconds into the game.
“I felt amazing,” Huey said of his mindset at that point. “I thought that everything was going to go our way, but it’s nothing we could do. Their defensive line was just tough, bullying our offensive line. I think that was the result of the game. We couldn’t really pass the ball.”
The defensive front of Notre Dame would win the war of the first half. Los Alamitos gained 53 yards from scrimmage before halftime.
The passing game opened things up for Notre Dame. A 33-yard connection from Meek to Maxwell Cotton for a 33-yard gain set up a six-yard rushing touchdown by Grubb.
On the Knights’ next drive, Meek got the ball to Andre Bray in space. He sped up the left sideline for a 52-yard touchdown, giving Notre Dame its first lead of 14-7 with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs
Sherman Oaks Notre Dame 49, Los Alamitos 32
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Los Alamitos 7 – 0 – 7 – 18 — 32
Notre Dame 7 – 16 – 7 – 19 — 49
LA – King 8 run (Valenzuela kick), 11:18.
ND – Grubb 6 run (Sharafatian kick), 2:09.
ND – Bray 52 pass from Meek (Sharafatian kick), 10:00.
ND – Safety (Mitchell tackled in end zone), 9:27.
ND – Guyton 21 INT return (Sharafatian kick), 3:16.
ND – Grubb 56 run (Sharafatian kick), 10:24.
LA – King 3 run (Valenzuela kick), 5:58.
ND – Broussard 49 pass from Meek (Sharafatian kick), 9:01.
LA – King 99 kickoff return (kick blocked), 8:44.
LA – Huey 10 pass from McConnell (pass failed), 4:25.
LA – King 31 pass from McConnell (pass failed), 1:44.
ND – Horton 48 kickoff return (kick blocked), 1:37.
ND – Guyton 30 INT return (kick failed), 1:26.
LA – Mitchell, 16-42.
ND – Grubb, 23-153, 2 TDs.
LA – McConnell, 15-31-5, 264, 2 TDs.
ND – Meek, 10-15-0, 193, 2 TDs.
LA – Huey, 8-113, 1 TD.