YORBA LINDA — A miraculous final play nearly saved the Sage Hill School football team Saturday night against Fairmont Prep.
But, for the Lightning, a slow start again proved too much to overcome.
Sage Hill lost the nonleague game, 32-27, at Yorba Linda High. It was another frustrating result for the Lightning, who are now 0-2 for just the second time in program history.
The Lightning lost more than the game. Sophomore quarterback CJ McCord injured his right arm in the second quarter and was taken to the hospital. Coach J.R. Tolver said Lucas Ellison, a stalwart at offensive tackle, also possibly separated his shoulder.
Tolver said McCord, a transfer from Edison, may have injured his radial nerve.
"We don't want to make any predictions on that, but from what the trainer said it's most likely that it's broken," Tolver said. "He's going to the doctor now, and hopefully we get some good news."
The good news for the Lightning was that they rallied in the second half for the second straight week. The bad news was that they still lost to a Fairmont Prep (1-0) team that went winless in nine games last season.
Sage Hill almost stole the victory on the game's final play. Senior quarterback Harrison Ray, who took over at the position when McCord was injured late in the second quarter, threw a pass over the middle. The ball was intercepted by Fairmont Prep's Lionel Wiggins on his own 30-yard line.
The Lightning's Sam Masarik somehow stripped the ball before Wiggins went down, and Sage junior Logan Hamilton picked it up and started running.
A touchdown would have provided a miracle ending, but Hamilton was tackled on the 15-yard line as the game ended. Fairmont Prep first-year coach Fred Romo, who was the offensive coordinator at Corona del Mar High in 2010, could finally exhale.
"Honestly I didn't know what to think," Romo said. "You're kind of like, 'What's going on here?' Then, after the circus ended, you saw the clock at zero and it was like, 'all right.' I mean, it was Keystone Cops."
Romo said he was just happy for his players after the team's rough season last year. He got anything but a Keystone Cops type of performance from his quarterback, junior Bobby Varnadoe. The Huskies ran Varnadoe and senior Jay Solanski time after time, and the two players seemingly broke tackles on every play. Romo said his team will use Varnadoe in any way it can think of, and it made sense.
Varnadoe and Solanski combined for 33 carries for 295 yards. Varnadoe, who attempted just eight passes, had all three of his team's rushing touchdowns.
"Our guys have to learn and realize that the ground is their friend," Tolver said. "When you have to tackle somebody bigger than you, they can't run without their legs, and we're trying to tackle everybody up high. We're trying to use our arms, and we're just not big enough and strong enough to do that."
Sage Hill, down 26-13 at halftime, drew closer in the third quarter. Ray found Thomas Fenner on a six-yard touchdown pass. After Joe Melita's conversion kick, the Lightning were down just 26-20.
Fairmont Prep responded early in the fourth quarter, when Varnadoe found Wiggins on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Fenner still made plays to give Sage Hill a shot at winning.
His 36-yard touchdown grab, his third receiving touchdown of the game, brought Sage Hill within 32-27 with 7:34 left in the game. Fenner somehow escaped two would-be tacklers at the 20-yard line on the play, before running it in for the score.
Two plays later, Fenner recovered a fumbled handoff to give the Lightning the ball at their own 46-yard line. But Sage would not find the end zone again.
The Lightning got the ball back on their own 14-yard line with 1:28 to go, but failed to get a big play to move the ball downfield. They did advance it to their own 47 before Fairmont's Bright Sizhe got a big quarterback sack for an eight-yard loss. Sage Hill was forced to call its final timeout with seven seconds left, setting up the frantic final play.
It almost went Sage Hill's way. But, two games into the season, the Lightning already know that almost doesn't count.
"For the most part, that's what's holding us back," Fenner said of the team's slow starts. "If we figure out a way to come out strong and start the way we've been finishing, we'll be able to win some games by a pretty big margin, I think."
Fairmont Prep 32, Sage Hill 27
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Fairmont Prep 13 – 13 – 0 – 6 — 32
Sage Hill 6 – 7 – 7 – 7 — 27
SH – McCord 1 run (kick failed), 5:00.
FP – Varnadoe 8 run (Varnadoe kick), 1:40.
FP – Varnadoe 16 run (kick blocked), 0:11.
FP – Varnadoe 1 run (Varnadoe kick), 10:33.
SH – Fenner 6 pass from McCord (Melita kick), 6:45.
FP – Solanski 68 interception return (run failed), 2:08.
SH – Fenner 6 pass from Ray (Melita kick), 5:03.
FP – Wiggins 24 pass from Varnadoe (run failed), 9:02.
SH – Fenner 36 pass from Ray (Melita kick), 7:34.
FP – Varnadoe, 21-161, 3 TDs.
SH – Melita, 15-75.
FP – Varnadoe, 4-8-0, 38, 1 TD.
SH – McCord, 4-8-2, 33, 1 TD; Ray, 9-18-1, 86, 2 TDs.
FP – Wiggins, 3-36, 1 TD.
SH – Fenner, 5-57, 3 TDs.