Sierra Canyon rallies to defeat Warren in a thriller

Warren quarterback Nico Iamaleava makes a pass from the pocket.
Quarterback Nico Iamaleava and his Warren teammates lost to Sierra Canyon on Friday night after a last-second field-goal attempt was wide right.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

After the madness ceased, after the delirious crowd mobbed a Sierra Canyon field that had seen few wins quite like this, Trailblazers quarterback Alonzo Esparza held an imaginary football in his hands and mimed the play of his life once more.

Fourth and 16 near midfield. All hope, seemingly, lost. Sierra Canyon down by seven to Warren in this Division 2 opening-round playoff matchup, just a few minutes left. But Esparza saw a cornerback playing off 6-foot-5 BYU commit Josiah Phillips, the Warren safety pressing and that he had a one-on-one shot.

“I said, ‘OK, you know what, I like it,’” Esparza said.

Esparza rolled and fired a high spiral toward Phillips, who made a 43-yard leaping grab over the cornerback.


A few plays later, Sierra Canyon was in the end zone, Esparza pumping his fists and sprinting across the field as the Trailblazers pulled out a 22-21 win after the Bears missed a last-second field-goal attempt.

“The best players make plays where it really matters,” Esparza said after the win.

Bishop Amat’s Aiden Ramos rushes for 303 yards in 33 carries in a Southern Section Division 2 playoff victory over Murrieta Valley on Friday night.

Nov. 4, 2022

The two programs traded blows all night. After throwing for eight yards in the first quarter and a half, Warren five-star quarterback and Tennessee commit Nico Iamaleava came alive in the third quarter, converting third-down attempts in driving Warren to a 21-14 lead.

“Nico can’t win this game by himself,” Bears coach Kevin Pearson said Thursday.

And yet, he almost did, stepping up to punt after an unsuccessful drive in the fourth quarter and kicking a beauty that pinned the Trailblazers on their own one-yard line. With six minutes left, Sierra Canyon got some wiggle room up to midfield thanks to sophomore running back Dane Dunn, who shredded the Warren defense for 87 first-half yards.

Then Phillips came down with that ball, and a subdued Trailblazer crowd awoke, only getting louder as Esparza flipped a pass to Jaylen’dai Sumlin in the left corner of the end zone.

They were down 21-20 with less than two minutes to play. But instead of kicking an extra point and going to overtime they trotted back out for a two-point conversion, and suddenly, the weight of a game was on a young quarterback’s shoulders.


“I’m only a sophomore, so they tell me, ‘Don’t put the pressure all on you,’” Esparza said. “That play’s all on me. So, of course, it’s either we win or we don’t.”

He dropped back, and there was senior Cameron Brandt — a defensive end — wide open in the end zone. He made the catch, and another Friday night miracle was complete.