The La Cañada High football team desperately needed a win Friday night against South Pasadena.
It wasn't just homecoming, it was the first Rio Hondo League game of the year, and the Spartans were looking to snap a three-game losing streak.
The whole team knew this, as several players, including starting quarterback Scott Gray, returned from injuries to lead La Cañada to a dramatic 28-21 victory at home.
"This was a huge, huge win," said La Cañada High Coach Dan Yoder, whose team is 3-3. "That three-game losing streak was starting to weigh on us a bit."
Although the Spartans were up 28-14 with 10:32 left in the game, they still made it interesting in the end.
Down by two scores with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter, the Tigers (3-3) drove for a touchdown as running back Patrick Martin rushed the ball into the end zone from one yard out for his second touchdown of the night, narrowing La Cañada's lead to 28-21 with 4:21 to go.
La Cañada couldn't respond, going three and out and giving the Tigers 2:46 left on the clock and a chance to ruin the Spartans' homecoming night.
It looked bad for the Spartans as Martin broke for a 24-yard run, settling in at La Cañada's three-yard line with 1:34 remaining. The Spartans' defense refused to break, however, standing in its own end zone. After a false start pushed South Pasadena back to the eight-yard line, La Cañada gave up just one yard on the next four plays, stuffing a run, getting a sack and forcing two incomplete passes to get the ball back with 20 seconds left as the Tigers turned it over on downs.
The Spartans took a knee and the game was in hand.
Gray was the secret to La Cañada's success, running for 72 yards and completing seven of 13 passes for 159 yards, including two touchdown passes — one to tight end Jay Kolina and another to receiver Jeff Barker.
"That kid is our offense right now," Yoder said. "We have a lot of tools and a lot of things right now, but his presence in that huddle just elevates everybody else's game."
Spartan running backs Daleep Sandhu and Kevin Stoner enjoyed some extra running room with Gray under center. Sandhu put up 49 yards and two touchdowns, while Stoner rushed for 120 yards, breaking for 57- and 54-yard runs.
"It felt good getting into the end zone, as long as points are going up and we're winning games," Sandhu said. "Anything we can do to score and win is good."
Even though it was a nailbiter, Stoner wouldn't have had it any other way.
"I am glad we won it the way we did because it wouldn't have nearly been as exciting if we won by 14," he said.
Yoder did all he could to remain calm, watching the Tigers drive the ball all the way to the three-yard line with under a minute to go in the game.
"My defense coordinator and I have worked together a long time and I have total faith in him," Yoder said. "We have a deal, I leave him alone and he leaves me alone. We start getting in each other's ear and it doesn't work too well. During that last drive, I was just thinking I am going to stay down here and try not to have a heart attack."