LONG BEACH — Edison High football coach Dave White knew going into Thursday's Sunset League championship game against Los Alamitos what the two keys would be, if his Chargers were to come away with another title.
"We need to not give up the big plays and not turn the ball over," he said, both last week after the Chargers defeated Fountain Valley, and earlier this week as his team prepared for its showdown with the Griffins.
Unfortunately for White, his greatest fears came to light at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
Los Alamitos used two huge plays to score its first two touchdowns, another to set up a third score and one final, long play to seal a 26-21 victory to dethrone Edison as league champion.
"I told you," White said after the game, after his young, injury-riddled Chargers had fought the Griffins to the final gun.
"They've got the guys who can make the big play, and they did just that," he continued. "We gave up some big plays when we appeared to have them where we wanted them, and that's the difference in the game.
"Our kids played their fannies off. We're a young team without many returners back from last year, and they (Los Alamitos) have a lot of returners back. I'm proud of our guys."
The Griffins, who went undefeated in league (5-0) en route to winning their first title since sharing the 2008 Sunset crown with Edison, Esperanza and Fountain Valley and Newport Harbor, took advantage of a speedy trio in senior receiver Richard Turner and junior running backs Nick Richardson and Cody Paul, to burn the Chargers for big-play scores.
The Griffins (8-2 overall) converted two third-down plays into touchdowns and converted on a fourth-down play in the third quarter to set up its third score.
The first capped a nice game-opening, 80-yard drive. The Griffins appeared to knock themselves out of scoring range after moving down to the Edison 26-yard line when quarterback Dylan Lagarde fumbled a handoff exchange and was dropped for a 16-yard loss. To top it off, the Griffins were hit with a dead-ball personal foul penalty for another 15 yards. But it didn't matter. On the next play, from his own 43, Richardson took a handoff around left end, found it clogged but shifted gears and headed toward midfield. He found nothing but open field ahead and raced 57 yards to the end zone. Linebacker Michael Douthwaite blocked the extra-point kick to leave Los Alamitos with a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The second big play came on the Griffins' next possession and after Edison had scored on its opening drive to take its only lead.
Edison (7-3, 4-1) responded to Richardson's scoring run two minutes later by moving 73 yards in just five plays to score. The big play was a second-down pass from quarterback Chase Favreau to Gavin Perdomo that covered 59 yards down to the Los Alamitos 21. The drive was kept alive on a pass interference call and on first-and-goal from the 10, Favreau scored on a keeper up the middle. Perdomo's kick gave the Chargers a 7-6 lead.
The Griffins, however, regained the lead for good less than two minutes later when Turner caught a third-and-eight pass from Lagarde between two defenders at the Edison 35, kept his balance and then bolted his way for an 78-yard touchdown.
Los Alamitos turned a 13-7 lead into a 20-7 advantage midway through the second quarter when Turner scored on a four-yard run. The drive was kept alive when Lagarde completed a fourth-down pass to Luke Iknadosian for 20 yards to put the ball at the four. It was set up when the Griffins recovered a Favreau fumble at the Edison 45.
The score stood at 20-7 at the half.
Edison sophomore running back Elijah Herrera returned the second-half kickoff 50 yards to set up the Chargers at the Los Alamitos 48 but the drive stalled at the 35 when Favreau's threw incomplete on fourth down. Favreau did connect with receiver Troy Baljeu on two key pass plays, one that went for 10 yards and a second for 27, on Edison's next series that led to a one-yard scoring run by running back NIck Masaniai and brought the Chargers to within 20-14 with 6:07 to play in the third quarter. But again, the Griffins, make that Turner, struck fast to again gain some breathing room.
Turner took a first-down handoff, scooted around left end and broke free at the line of scrimmage and scored on a 69-yard run to boost the lead to 26-14 with 4:22 left in the quarter.
Edison appeared to be moving in for another score when it reached the Los Alamitos 30 but Favreau hung up a pass that the Griffins' Matt Kupchin stepped in front of Baljeu to intercept at the nine with 1:32 still on the third-quarter clock.
"Chase had a great game and we really moved the ball on offense all night, but he lobbed that ball up there. Unfortunately, it cost us," White said.
The Chargers put together an 11-play drive in the fourth quarter that ended on a one-yard vault into the end zone by Masaniai and Perdomo's kick pulled Edison to within 26-21 with 4:01 to play.
The Chargers never got the ball back.
That's because on a second-and-12 play from his own 18, Richardson broke free at the line and rambled 41 yards out to the Edison 41 with 2:43 remaining. From there, the Griffins relied on Andrew Faraimo to milk the clock. The senior running back, who had only 12 yards on six carries to that point, rushed three times and picked up two first downs, the final one coming with 1:38 left and Edison out of timeouts.
Favreau threw for 220 yards and rushed for 49 more. Baljeu had five receptions total 80 yards and Perdomo had three catches for 90 yards.
Richardson led all rushers with 162 yards on 14 carries. Turner rushed for 80 yards on four attempts and caught three passes for 108 yards.
Los Alamitos will enter next week's CIF Pac-5 Division playoffs as the Sunset's No. 1 team. Edison heads into the postseason as the league's second-place team.