Jordan Leonard went on the run Thursday night, and the Brethren Christian Warriors rode the junior’s legs to a share of the Academy League football championship.
The 5-foot-7 running back was unstoppable as he slashed and sliced, dashed and diced his way to 341 yards, six touchdowns that elevated Brethren Christian to a 51-36 victory over Crean Lutheran in a league and regular-season finale for both teams at Ocean View High.
BC’s triumph, its ninth win in 10 games, gave the Warriors, ranked fifth in the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division, a portion of the league title. It also denied fourth-ranked Crean Lutheran (7-3 overall) an outright championship, as the Eagles needed a victory Thursday to claim an undisputed title.
BC and Crean Lutheran share the Academy crown with seventh-ranked and defending league champion St. Margaret’s. All three teams ended league play with 2-1 records (BC’s league loss came two weeks ago to St. Margaret’s, 34-31).
BC Athletic Director Jon Bahnsen said after the game a coin flip was held Wednesday to determine the league’s pecking order for next week’s CIF playoffs, should the three-way tie for the title occur. Bahnsen said the Warriors won the flip and are the league’s No. 1 seed. Crean Lutheran is the No. 2 seed and St. Margaret’s (8-2), the defending East Valley Division champion, will receive an at-large bid from the league.
The Warriors will host a first-round game at 7 p.m. Nov. 13. The playoff pairings will be announced Sunday.
Crean Lutheran’s 26-20 victory last week over St. Margaret’s put BC in line for a possible share of the title.
The Warriors took full advantage of that opportunity Thursday and in doing so, won a league championship for the first time since 2002.
“We’re thrilled to win a share of the title, but [Crean Lutheran] sure didn’t quit,” BC Coach Pat McInally said. “We had our chances in the first half to really put the game away, but we didn’t.
“It’s really exciting to win the coin flip and go in as the No. 1 team from our league.”
BC never trailed, but Crean Lutheran crept back to within striking distance late in the game, closing the gap to 44-36 with 3:37 to play. The Saints needed one more stop to get one last stab at completing a comeback, but couldn’t contain — who else? — Leonard.
BC took possession on the ensuing kickoff at its own 32, and then turned to Leonard. He ripped off a 16-yard gain on first down, and there was a 15-yard personal foul face mask call on the tackle. On second down, he rambled for 42 yards around right end to put the ball at the Crean Lutheran four-yard line. Two plays later, he scored his final TD from four yards out with 1:39 remaining.
Free safety Josh Gorrell secured the win with an interception deep in BC territory with 14 seconds to go.
“Jordan Leonard was just fantastic, and our line did a great job out there for him,” McInally said.
The Warriors scored on their first four possessions of the game, thanks to the speed and determination of Leonard who had several tackle-breaking runs and just refused to be taken down. By halftime, he had already amassed 201 yards and four touchdowns on only 14 carries, the BC defense had made two fourth-down stops and allowed only one touchdown, and junior Nathan Sagastume returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown. It all added up to a comfortable, 37-14 halftime advantage for the Warriors.
Five touchdowns were scored, overall, on BC’s first five possessions but unfortunately for the Warriors, one of those TDs belonged to Crean Lutheran.
Leonard’s first carry of the game resulted in a 37-yard sprint to the end zone that ended the opening possession of the game. He added a two-point run for an 8-0 lead with just over two minutes gone. On BC’s next offensive series, Crean Lutheran free safety Nick Ellwein scooped up a tipped backward lateral pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown to make it 8-7.
The Warriors got the points back immediately. Leonard capped a six-play, 59-yard drive by taking a handoff through a big opening on the right side of the line for a 29-yard scoring run. A 16-yard pass play between quarterback Joey Gutierrez and Sagastume on third-and-16 was the big play that kept the drive alive. The Saints, though, again drew to within a point (15-14) on a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gavin Folsom to receiver Daniel Albright.
BC then pulled away.
A failed onside kick gave the Warriors possession at midfield. On first-down, Gutierrez lofted a pass downfield where receiver Jason Fuga went high to come down with a great catch and a 38-yard gain at the Crean Lutheran 12. On the next play, Leonard squirted through the left side for a touchdown and a 22-14 lead with still 1:26 left in the first quarter.
The BC defense then stopped a fourth-down gamble by the Saints early in the second quarter, and the Warriors took over on downs near midfield. On second-down, Leonard took an inside handoff, put a nice move on a defender at the Crean Lutheran 42, broke a few tackles before splitting two defenders and racing his way to a 45-yard touchdown run.
Less than two minutes later, Sagastume fielded a punt at the BC 30 and somehow broke through several would-be tacklers and eluded a grab from behind that stretched his jersey and nearly brought him down, to score on a 70-yard return with 7:09 left in the half.
It would be the final score of a scintillating first half that ended with the Warriors owning a 23-point lead.
Crean Lutheran scored on the opening possession of the second half, but took 17 plays and 6:14 of the third-quarter block to do so. An eight-yard scoring run by fullback Tanner Atkinson brought the Saints to within 37-21. Leonard answered with another tackle-breaking touchdown run, this one, on a 46-yard sprint, to make it 44-21 with 2:56 left in the third quarter.
A seven-yard TD run on an end around by Ellwein on the final play of the fourth quarter, and a one-yard scoring run by Atkinson and two-point run on a reverse by Isaac Holbrook with 3:37 left to play, brought the Saints to within 44-36. From there, it was Leonard who made a few final pushes, and one final touchdown.
Leonard, who finished with 24 carries, could have had more yardage and a seventh TD, but an 18-yard scoring run was negated by a holding call against the Warriors late in the first half.
His performance Thursday gives Leonard 2,223 yards and 33 touchdowns (161 carries) through the regular season.
“I want to give thanks to my line, and thank God for this opportunity,” a smiling Leonard said after the game, looking no worse for the wear after his big night as he accepted congratulations from his teammates and several Crean Lutheran players. “I just ran as hard as I could and followed my blocks.
“My line was great. I love those guys.”
(all games 7 p.m.)
Edison (6-3) at Newport Harbor (4-5)
Huntington Beach (3-6) vs. Fountain Valley (6-3)
(at Westminster High)
Los Alamitos (4-5) at Marina (1-8)
(at Huntington Beach High)
Golden West League
Loara (0-9) at Ocean View (4-5)