In forging a three-game winning streak over the past three weeks, the Edison High football team took care of the football.
Thursday night at Huntington Beach High's Cap Sheue Field, the Chargers couldn't hang on to the pigskin, and it cost them an important Sunset League game.
And, the final result sent the league race into a wide-open affair.
In a low-scoring slugfest between two teams ranked in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division, fifth-ranked Los Alamitos climbed back into the league title chase by squeezing out a 16-10 victory, knocking second-ranked Edison out of first place in the process.
In another close battle between the schools, a series that was tied, 5-5, in the 10 meetings prior to Thursday's game, Los Alamitos (7-1, 2-1 in league) found a way to win. Edison (5-3, 2-1) was more productive offensively in the first half, although neither team scored much, and the Griffins benefited from untimely mistakes by the Chargers.
Edison threw two interceptions, had a punt blocked, and fumbled on a punt return late in the game down six points.
"Offensively we didn't play well, our punt team was terrible, and we made some bad decisions tonight," Edison Coach Dave White said. "We had opportunities to win this game, but we didn't move the ball. We turned the ball over just as we had done earlier in the year, in losses to Servite and Mater Dei."
Thursday's outcome left Fountain Valley as the only remaining undefeated team in Sunset League play. The 2-0 Barons play Friday at Newport Harbor. The Sailors are 1-1 in league, having defeated Los Alamitos and losing to Edison the past two weeks.
Yes, the Sunset race just took on a new twist.
"It's a tough league," said White who earlier in the year predicted that the eventual Sunset League champion wouldn't go 5-0 en route to the title.
A strange first half ended with Los Alamitos holding a 7-3 lead despite its offense earning only one first down, and a second one, by virtue of a penalty. The one by penalty was big, as it put the Griffins first-and-goal at the Edison two-yard line midway through the second quarter. Two plays later, a touchdown run by Mike Hayden gave the Griffins their first lead at 7-3.
The scoring drive was set up by a fumble recovery by defensive back Sam Corder-Lee at the Edison 43. On the next play, quarterback Nick Wendell threw a pass inside the 10 that receiver Demonte King went high to grab at the Edison four. The pass play was the initial first down of the half for the Griffins.
Edison's defense, however, stiffened and appeared to have held the Griffins on two running plays and an incomplete pass. A third-down pass by Wendell to the corner of the end zone went beyond the end line and out of bounds, but Edison defensive back Kiante Goudeau was called for pass interference.
With the ball placed at the two for a new set of downs, Hayden took a quick handoff on second down into the end zone from a yard out with 4:49 remaining in the half.
Following Hayden's touchdown run, Edison went from its own 20 down to the Los Alamitos 21 but an intentional grounding call against quarterback Christian Heffelman, moved the ball back, and Hunter Kelley was just short on a 56-yard field-goal attempt with 32 seconds left in the half.
Edison had taken a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 34-yard field goal by Kelley. The Chargers' started their scoring drive, set up by an interception by defensive back Josh Gruwell, at the Los Alamitos 41, and moved down to the 14 before the drive stalled.
The Griffins went three-and-out on all three of their first-quarter possessions, and four of six in the opening half, yet still managed a four-point advantage at intermission. They had a chance to increase their lead early in the second half when cornerback Derrick Worthy stepped in front of Edison receiver Jake Favreau to make an interception at the Edison 42. Worthy returned the ball to the 22 where he was dragged down on the third play of the third quarter.
Again, Edison's defense held, and the Chargers dodged a bullet when Brett Mathis was wide right on a 32-yard field-goal attempt.
Penalties hurt Edison on its ensuing possession, and Kelley was forced to punt from his own end zone. Starting from the Edison 39, the Griffins, who converted a pair of fourth-down plays to keep the drive alive, moved down to the five but were held to a 22-yard field goal by Mathis for a 10-3 lead with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
The Chargers came right back to tie the score.
On the first play from scrimmage following Mathis' field goal, Edison running back Tyler Warren burst straight up the middle for a 49-yard gain — the biggest gain of the night by either team, to put the ball at the Los Alamitos 21. The Chargers got down to the two, where Warren punched the ball into the end zone. Kelley's point after tied the score, 10-10, with 2:13 to go in the quarter.
Edison's defense held the Griffins in three plays to force a punt, but the Chargers offense couldn't muster anything in three plays. Kelley went back to punt but his kick was smothered by Los Alamitos linebacker Denzal Brantley who recovered the loose ball at the Edison 19 just 16 seconds into the fourth quarter. On the next play, Wendell hit tight end Joe Wysocki in the end zone on an apparent touchdown pass, but the play was called back due to a personal foul call against the Griffins.
The Griffins' drive fizzled, and Edison got the ball back with 10:26 to play. The Chargers moved from their own 20 down to the Los Alamitos 28, the big play a 24-yard gain on a keeper by Heffelman. On a second-down run, the Chargers were called for holding which put the ball back at the 41 and two plays later, they were forced to punt.
Kelley's punt was fielded at the Los Alamitos 10 by Jerry Raye who raced down the Los Alamitos sideline and came up with a multiple tackle-breaking, 85-yard return before he somersaulted out of bounds inside the Edison five. On first-and-goal, Hayden went straight up the middle to score from two yards out. Goudeau broke through the line to smother Mathis' extra-point attempt, but the Griffins were up, 16-10, with 6:30 left.
With under three minutes to go, Edison's defense forced another punt. Blake Johnson's kick from inside his own 10 went off the side of the junior's foot, and took a couple of bounces at the Los Alamitos 41. Edison return man Marcus Epps charged toward the ball and attempted to pick it up on the hop, but never gained control. The loose ball was recovered at the 41 by Corder-Lee, and the Griffins had the ball back, clinging to a six-point lead with 2:45 left on the clock.
"He was just trying to make a play, to get us going," White said of Epps. "He's a competitor, and that play didn't lose the game for us."
Edison got the ball back deep in its own territory with 21 seconds left and converted two pass plays to reach the 45, when time expired.
Los Alamitos was playing its seventh-consecutive road game. The Griffins finish out the regular season with home games over the next two weeks against Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley.
Next week, Edison takes on Fountain Valley in the Bell Game Nov. 1 at Orange Coast College.
The Sunset title chase is far from over.
"We win the next two weeks, we are league champs," White said. "We'll see if we can do it."
Edison schedule (5-3, 2-1)
14...Los Angeles Garfield...0
Nov. 1: vs. *Fountain Valley (OCC), 7 p.m.
Nov. 8: at *Marina (Westminster High), 7 p.m.)
(*denotes Sunset League game)