NEWPORT COAST — In the hours before Sage Hill's thrilling 29-28 win over Crean Lutheran in Friday's Academy League opener, Lightning Coach J.R. Tolver said his team had a heart-to-heart meeting.
The results never proved more true as four Sage Hill players stepped up in a big way to help snap a five-game losing streak to teams with a combined record of 20-10.
"We had a meeting today," Tolver said. "I asked them, 'Who is the most important member of this team?' The kids banded together and said no one is more important than the team."
While that holds true for the Lightning (2-5, 1-0 in league), no one came up bigger at the right time than linebacker David Fenner, who stuffed Saints running back Chasen McNaughton's run up the middle on a two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds left in the game. McNaughton, who slipped on the moist grass on the play, had earlier torched Sage Hill for 80 rushing yards and 63 receiving yards, plus a touchdown that made it a 14-8 ballgame with 7:18 left in the second quarter.
"The defense shined today," Tolver said. "Next week, it'll be the offense. Someday, it'll be the special teams … there's no two players that carry this team. There's not even 10 players who carry this team. It's everyone who does their job."
Crean Lutheran made a valiant effort in attempting a comeback from a 22-8 halftime deficit. Quarterback Adam Barrett scored on a one-yard sneak to score the touchdown. Instead of kicking the game-tying field goal to send it into overtime, Saints Coach David Krystowiak chose to go for the win. Despite a play-action passing game that included standout receiver Riley Tooker (six catches, 89 yards, one touchdown), Crean Lutheran chose to go for the run straight up the gut.
With 5:52 left in the game, Sage Hill quarterback Taylor Petty delivered a screen pass to fellow senior Eric Cheng. The shifty running back took the ball 63 yards to the house for a commanding 29-15 lead.
"We're hitting a hot streak," Petty said. "We're ready to hang an [Academy League] banner in the gym. We played a bunch of good teams, we know we did it for a reason. Our blockers blocked, our receivers made great plays."
Another senior, Ford Hanour, also scored two touchdowns. He returned an interception 25 yards for one score and went 13 yards with a fumble recovery for another.
Sage Hill 29, Crean Lutheran 28
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Crean 0 – 8 – 0 – 20 – 28
Sage Hill 7 – 15 – 0 – 7 – 29
SH – Hanour 25 interception return (Melita kick), 0:04.
SH – T. Fenner 25 pass from Petty (Melita kick), 9:15
SH – Hanour 70 fumble return (Cheng pass from Perry), 0:19.
CL – Cox 4 pass from Barrett (Jones kick), 8:41.
SH – Cheng 63 pass from Petty (Melita kick), 5:52.
CL – Tooker 20 pass from Barrett (Jones kick), 3:35.
CL – Barrett 1 run (run failed), 0:32.
SH – Petty 2-33.
CL – McNaughton 15-80.
SH – Petty, 3-5-0, 126, 2 TDs.
CL – Barrett, 14-17-1, 197, 2 TDs.
SH – Cheng 2-78. 1 TD.
CL – Tooker 6-89, 1 TD.