Football is a game of inches and Lawndale proved that Saturday night at Cerritos College.
On fourth-and-goal at the one, San Joaquin Memorial quarterback Alec Trujillo fumbled six inches short of the goal line and although he recovered he was down by contact and the Cardinals escaped with a 20-12 victory for the CIF Division 2-A state bowl championship.
“The ending was great for the fans, but I don’t like that situation ever,” Lawndale coach Travis Clark said. “I like my defense and they’re the guys I wanted on the field. They tried to run right at our strength.”
Back-to-back 15-yard penalties moved Lawndale to its own 30-yard line with 11 seconds left and one kneel-down later it was over.
Jordan Wilmore capped the Cardinals’ first two drives with scoring runs of 10 and 15 yards but Lawndale failed to convert two-point attempts both times. Wilmore had 208 yards in 29 carries and finished the season with 2,228 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“This game added the exclamation point to Jordan’s career,” Clark said. “He’s not only a great runner, he’s a great blocker. He does that a lot, he’s a team player and I can’t wait to see what he does on Saturdays."
Trujillo’s one-yard sneak cut the Panthers’ deficit to 12-6 early in the second quarter but the extra point attempt was blocked.
Lawndale (14-2) extended its lead on a safety late in the third quarter when a snap sailed over the head of punter Daniel Flores and officials ruled he stepped out of the back of the end zone trying to retrieve the ball.
Quarterback Jalon Daniels completed eight of 17 passes for 101 yards and one interception, Makell Esteen caught two passes for 40 yards and Stanley Livingstone added two receptions for 29 yards for the Southern Section Division 5 champions.
“I was in coverage on the last play and when I saw the quarterback keep it my thought was to stick to my assignment,” Livingstone said. “We need to make a play on the ball. I saw it come out and the receiver put his hands up. We play to the final whistle."
Trujillo rolled right and found Mac Delena in the corner of the end zone to pull the Central Section Division 3 champions within 14-12 with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter but defensive tackle Naki Fahina sacked Trujillo on the two-point try.
The Cardinals marched 85 yards in nine plays, scoring on Daniels’ 16-yard keeper to take a 20-12 lead with 2:02 left, but Wilmore was buried behind the line on the two-point try.
Lawndale ended the season on an 11-game winning streak after losing to City Section Open Division champion Harbor City Narbonne on Sept. 21. Its only other defeat was to Calabasas on Aug. 31. The Cardinals began the year upsetting Chatsworth Sierra Canyon — a foreshadowing of the success that was to follow.
“This is a special group and at the beginning of the season we talked about being legendary,” Clark said. "We were shooting to be section champs and now this — it’s an amazing feat. The players will remember this their whole lives."