The Southern Section Division 1 football playoffs have mostly lacked drama with one blowout after another, but Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup between No. 4-seeded Westlake Village Oaks Christian and No. 5 San Juan Capistrano JSerra finally delivered the kind of game fans will talk about for years.
“It was surreal,” Oaks Christian quarterback Josh Calvert said in trying to describe how his team was able to pull out a 35-34 victory in San Juan Capistrano.
Garth White made a 26-yard field goal with 18 seconds left, completing a comeback that included Oaks Christian (12-0) rallying from deficits of 14-0, 28-17 and 34-32.
Leading the way was Michigan-bound running back Zach Charbonnet, who almost put his team on his back. He rushed for 220 yards in 29 carries and scored one touchdown. Countering him was junior running back Chris Street of JSerra. He gained 171 yards in 21 carries.
In the end, though, it was Calvert refusing to let his team’s season end that was decisive. He was ineffective passing for much of the game, but his competitiveness kept Oaks Christian within striking distance until he finally started completing passes.
JSerra (9-3) looked ready to pull away at the outset of the third quarter, opening a 28-17 lead on a 60-yard touchdown run by sophomore Samuel Green. Then Nate Lenthall got Oaks Christian back into the game, returning an interception 27 yards for a touchdown. Charbonnet’s two-point conversion run made it 28-25.
Oaks Christian took a 32-28 lead on Calvert’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Ty Shamblin with 8:35 left. The drive was kept alive by JSerra running into the punter and Calvert completing a fourth-down pass to brother Ethan for a first down.
JSerra went back on top at 34-32 with 6:15 remaining on Munir McClain’s 13-yard touchdown reception. Oaks Christian got the ball back with 2:40 left, and Calvert drove his team to the 10-yard line before White converted his game-winning field goal.
JSerra had one final chance, but a Hail Mary pass attempt to McClain in the end zone was deflected by Lenthall as time expired.
“It was crazy,” Josh Calvert said.
The final four in Division 1 are set. On Friday night, it will be Corona Centennial (12-0) taking on Santa Ana Mater Dei (10-2) at Santa Ana Stadium and Bellflower St. John Bosco (12-0) playing at Oaks Christian.
Oaks Christian will not have standout defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top recruit in the state, who was ejected in the second half.
More than two hours before kickoff, in the senior parking lot, JSerra parents made 1,000 cheeseburgers and 1,000 cookies available to Oaks Christian fans in a special tailgate party trying to help them get a respite from dealing with the out-of-control wildfires in Westlake Village.
“Welcome OC,” a sign taped to a post read.
“It’s an awful situation that’s happened to them and the whole city,” said one of the tailgate organizers, Ron Nielsen, who grew up in Canoga Park and was a star football player at St. Genevieve and UCLA.
“We all have mutual friends,” he said. “We’re brothers in faith and God. It’s a lot bigger than football. If we can make it comfortable and a little bit of a break for a couple of hours, it’s 100% worth it.”
Nielsen’s father was an L.A. city fireman for 25 years.