With high school sports suspended, prep columnist Eric Sondheimer is looking back on some of the most memorable championship games.
It’s 2001. Taft is playing Dorsey in the City Section championship football game at the Coliseum. There’s seven seconds left. Taft has the ball on its own 32-yard line and holds a 14-13 lead. All the Toreadors need to do is run out the clock with a simple punt.
“I’m thinking we haven’t had a punt blocked all season,” Taft coach Troy Starr said. “I thought, ‘Punt the ball and the game is over.’”
On the Dorsey sideline, coach Paul Knox had practiced a blocked punt play all week and finally told his team to use it during a timeout.
“We thought we could block one,” Knox said.
The ball was snapped well to punter Issac Garden. Jesus Jimenez of Dorsey somehow deflected the ball. That was the easy part. The next part was all luck.
“The kid who blocked it was the last one to get off the line of scrimmage,” Starr said. “He threw up his hand and it frickin’ hit his hand. Then the punt went sideways five to 10 yards and the miracle happened when the Dorsey guy went to scoop it up, missed it and it hit his shin and went 25 yards directly to the end zone. He couldn’t do that again in a million times. Then there was the big pileup.”
Henry Madge of Dorsey came up with the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and a stunning 19-14 win.
“The ending was the craziest I’ve ever had,” said Knox, a Hall of Fame coach who started coaching in 1985 and is head coach at Washington Prep. “We took a team picture after but there was so much chaos I wasn’t in the picture.”
Starr said he has “replayed that play thousands of times” in his mind.
“If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t have punted the ball,” he said. “You just don’t punt it with the game on the line on the last play. It’s better to give them a long throw to the end zone. It was just a fluke that it was blocked perfectly. If the guy just recovered it and picked it up, we had guys around him to tackle him. It hit his shin and went 25 yards. To this day, I feel bad about it.”
Starr remembers Knox being gracious afterward. His 11-year-old son was crying.
“Paul took time to introduce himself and console my son,” Starr said. “That’s Paul Knox at his best. He had so much empathy.”