LONG BEACH — The physical high school football game went back and forth, as both the Brethren Christian and Sage Hill teams took whatever momentum they could get.
The host Warriors had the ball at the end but made one fatal mistake.
They threw it to "Ascher Island."
Junior cornerback Conner Ascher picked off an underthrown ball in the end zone with just 11 seconds left, helping Sage Hill hold on for a big 34-26 Academy League win Saturday night at Clark Field.
Ascher laughed at the mention of Ascher Island after the game, a term the Lightning borrowed from "Revis Island," used to describe the shutdown cornerback abilities of the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis. But he came up big when needed.
"I knew it was going to No. 7 [Jazz Hill]," Ascher said. "I knew I had to stay on him and stay in front of him."
The Lightning (7-2, 1-1 in league) knew they needed the win headed into their league final Friday against last-place Crean Lutheran. Had they lost to Brethren Christian, they could have finished no better than third in league and they would have been left hoping for an at-large berth into the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division playoffs.
As it is, Sage can clinch second place in league and an automatic berth by beating Crean Lutheran. Coach J.R. Tolver was proud of his team after its fourth come-from-behind victory of the season.
"It's a testament to this team," Tolver said. "They've proven time and time again that nothing rattles them. I think it goes back to the Tri-City Christian game [Sept. 10], where we were down 28-9 and came back to win, 33-31. Nothing rattles this team."
Senior Taylor Ross had 169 rushing yards and three touchdowns for Sage, which was down 20-13 at halftime to Brethren Christian (4-5, 1-1). Junior Taylor Petty resolved that on the short second-half kickoff, returning it 62 yards for a touchdown to knot the score.
Brethren pulled ahead again later in the quarter on junior quarterback Samuel Franklin's third rushing touchdown of the game, this one from three yards out.
But Sage owned the fourth quarter. Taking over the ball at their own 48-yard line after a fumble was recovered by Ford Hanour, the Lightning used two long pass plays to Petty to get the ball to the one-yard line. Senior quarterback Randall Mycorn ran it in and after Ross' conversion kick, Sage Hill had a 27-26 lead with under eight minutes to go.
After holding Brethren to a three-and-out, the Lightning got the ball back with 5:24 left in the game and could try to run time off the clock. They faced a fourth-and-two at the Brethren Christian 21 when Ross, out of the Wildcat formation, bounced left, got to the corner and took it all the way for the touchdown.
"We quick-counted, hopefully to try to gash it right up the middle behind T.J. Danner," Tolver said. "But, you know, Taylor Ross is a playmaker. I told him at halftime, 'In order for us to win this ballgame, our superstars are going to have step up, and you're one of them. You're going to have to make a play for us when we need it.'
"He took that to heart and did just that."
Sage Hill 34, Brethren Christian 26
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Sage Hill 13 – 0 – 7 – 14 — 34
Brethren 6 – 14 – 6 – 0 — 26
BC – Franklin 2 run (kick failed), 9:37.
SH – Ross 49 run (Ross kick), 9:23.
SH – Ross 26 run (kick failed), 4:43.
BC – Franklin 31 run (Duren kick), 3:49.
BC – Hill 15 pass from Franklin (Duren kick), 0:54.
SH – Petty 62 kickoff return (Ross kick), 11:49.
BC – Franklin 3 run (kick failed), 7:25.
SH – Mycorn 1 run (Ross kick), 7:16.
SH – Ross 21 run (Ross kick), 2:30.
SH – Ross, 22-169, 3 TDs.
BC – White, 19-112.
SH – Mycorn, 8-18-1, 99.
BC – Franklin, 9-16-0, 143, 1 TD.
SH – Petty, 3-58.
BC – Hill, 6-100, 1 TD.