SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — He felt so thankful to be wearing a Hoover High football uniform, he was in tears.
Jesse Pina felt blessed Friday night.
The senior Tornado, who was dismissed from the team a year ago for disciplinary reasons, returned to the Hoover squad this year, and his coaches and teammates were glad to have him back.
Pina thanked his coaches and teammates with a career performance. He rushed for five touchdowns, including the game-winning score with less than two minutes remaining, to lift Hoover to a 33-28 nonleague victory against South Pasadena at Moyse Field. The win gave the Tornadoes a 2-0 record, its first such start since 2005.
“I am so happy,” Pina said. “After last year, after all my flaws, I'm happy.”
So was his coach.
“I don't think I've ever been as proud of a kid as I am of him,” Hoover Coach Andrew Policky said. “To come back this year and be a model citizen and be a leader on the team, it doesn't get any better.”
Policky turned to Pina in the waning minutes, just like he did throughout the game, as Pina rushed 17 times for 169 yards and caught three passes for 59 yards, including a 40-yard catch and run on the game-winning drive.
With Hoover trailing, 28-27, and eight minutes remaining, it took over on its own 20.
Just like it had in the first three quarters, Hoover used a patient and pounding ground game to march down the field. Pina had a 40-yard reception from Brendon Kerr, who had his second consecutive efficient contest completing 10 of 13 passes for 102 yards.
On a third-and-six play from South Pasadena's 28, Hoover surprised the Tigers (1-1) with a handoff to Jose Abrina. The junior sprinted 18 yards to set up first-and-goal.
Three plays put Hoover on the two-yard line.
Facing a fourth-down, Policky initially called for a field-goal attempt before calling a timeout and changing his mind.
He turned to Pina.
Pina charged in for a two-yard touchdown that set off a Tornado celebration that erupted after Hoover forced the Tigers to throw an incomplete pass from the 25-yard line as time expired.
“We couldn't take that guy down,” said South Pasadena Coach Marty Konrad, whose team overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and took a one-point lead when Nathan Lee returned a Pina punt 73 yards for a touchdown with 8:29 left.
“He's the difference maker. That guy is huge. We knew it was going to be smash-mouth football. We just kept bouncing off him.”
It didn't matter what type of defensive front Konrad used against Hoover. Pina still had his way.
“Jesse was a man today,” Policky said.
Policky said he always knew he would give Pina a second chance.
He just didn't know how Pina would respond. He returned as a humble leader who was grateful.
“I love Hoover football,” Pina said. “I love the coaches. I love my brothers. I'm glad to be back.”