By Pat Turner
O’Connor (9-0, 8-0) nabbed its third straight title with a 30-23 win over Brennan, which fell into a second-place tie with Brandeis. The Broncos avenged a loss to Jay, the team which kept them out of the playoffs a year ago, with a 66-35 thumping. In addition, Warren punched its ticket with a 27-14 win over Marshall.
For O’Connor coach David Malesky, watching this year’s Panthers reach the top and go into the final week of the regular season with a perfect record was the ultimate accomplishment.
After all, 2018 had concerns with several new faces manning the positions. Despite the youthful look, the Panthers grew up quickly.
“It’s amazing to see what these kids have done,” Malesky said. “If you asked me if we were going to be 9-0 and win the district championship on the ninth game of the year I would have wondered. But these kids have done so much.
“We’re doing it differently than last year, but these kids fight to the very end. They feel like they have a chance every time.”
O’Connor’s ability to overcome adversity carried the Panthers past Brennan as Tin McCrea’s 91-yard fumble return, followed by an interception and fumble recovery by Pryson Greer ignited a second-half rally from a 20-9 deficit.
Brennan (6-3, 6-2) was productive moving the football in the first half, putting together scoring drives of 98, 88 and 57 yards.
The first came after an O’Connor punt placed the Bears at their 2.
Jordan Flores gave the Bears a little breathing space on the drive that lasted nearly six minutes with a 10-yard pass to Ellis True. A few plays later, something bigger happened for Brennan when Jordan Smith snagged a Flores pass and broke free from two O’Connor defenders for a 50-yard gain, putting the Bears at the Panthers’ 25.
The drive started fizzling at the 13-yard line, but on third down a facemask penalty against the Panthers gave the Bears new life. Amani Arvelo then scored on a 1-yard plunge for a 7-0 lead with 3:36 left in the first period.
Brennan was successful on its next possession as Flores guided an 88-yard. 11-play drive before finding Smith for an 11-yard TD toss.
O’Connor came back with offensive spark of its own as Dodd’s 44-yard strike to Chase Locke set up the quarterback’s eventual 14-yard TD toss to a diving Sam Castillo to pull the Panthers within 13-7.
O’Connor tried an onside kick, but Brennan was prepared for the potential surprise. The Bears then marched 57 yards before Arvelo scored from 6 yards out for a 20-6 lead.
O’Connor finished the half with a 30-yard field goal, but it appeared to be falling into a deeper hole at the beginning of the second half when Flores moved the Bears inside the Panthers 5-yard line.
However, the Panthers got the lift they needed when McRae saw the ball come loose at the 9-yard line. The O’Connor defender scooped up the ball and sprinted downfield for his first career touchdown. Dodd then tossed a two-point conversion pass to Castillo, bringing the Panthers within a field goal.
“I just tried to stay focused,” McRae said. “I was dead eye on the ball. When I got the ball, it was so surreal. I checked behind me and kept going. When I got into the end zone, I saw the referee and celebrated with my brothers.
“That was definitely a momentum changer. Before that (Brennan) had the momentum. We just trusted each other.”
A tipped Brennan pass fell into Greer’s hands, but the Panthers were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
During Brennan’s next drive, Greer recovered a fumble at the Bears’ 48-yard line and the Panthers made that chance work with Jordan Maye eventually scoring on a 4-yard run for a 27-20 lead.
Brennan appeared to be in good shape for tying the score when Flores’ 45-yard touchdown pass to Smith put the Bears at O’Connor’s 2-yard line.
The Panthers’ defense didn’t let the Bears into the end zone. Grant Rustan made a stop for a 3-yard loss and pressure from Greer led to two incomplete passes, forcing Brennan to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Jonathan Swisher.
O’Connor countered with a three-pointer from Leslie and held off the Bears in the final seconds with Max Arquello’s interception.
“There’s so many ways you can win a football game,” Malesky said. “There’s so many ways you can lose a football game. There’s no set way. You have to believe if you play 48 minutes of football as hard as you can, you have a chance to win. We told them at halftime to go out and play hard and see what happens.”
Brandeis 66, Jay 35
Brandeis and Jay were involved in another wild scoring affair.
Brandeis, which dropped a 58-57 overtime decision in last year’s meeting, got the advantage with a 38-point burst in the second half.
Brandeis quarterback Jordan Battles was a big part of the Broncos’ offensive show, completing 10 of 14 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, while rambling for 138 yards and a touchdown.
- Nova Rangel and Christian Medina delivered big plays as well. Rangel scored Brandeis’ first touchdown on a 73-yard kick return to for a 7-6 lead after Jay took a 6-0 lead on Jacob Zeno’s 28-yard pass to Jaylin Hastings.
Following Zeno’s 44-yard touchdown bomb to Jordan Choate, Medina crossed the end zone from 14 yards out for a 14-12 lead.
After Brandeis fell behind 18-13 in the second quarter, Rangel scored on a 1-yard run for a 21-18 advantage.
Jay’s Jonathan Gonzales booted a 25-yard field for a 21-21 tie, but the Broncos finished the half by regaining the lead on Battles’ 32-yard touchdown pass to Josh Suarez with 44 seconds remaining.
Brandeis built on its 28-21 lead with more fireworks in the second half. Rangel added his final highlight when he unloaded a 37-yard TD pass to Suarez. Medina scored twice in the second half and Battles had a 14-yard touchdown run. Xavier Lopez connected on a 36-yard field goal.
Warren 27, Marshall 14
Warren (7-2, 6-2) had a tough tussle with Marshall (2-7, 1-7), but the Warriors delivered enough punch to pull away.
Marshall owned a 2-0 lead in the first period following a safety. Despite sputtering offensively during that time, the Warriors found its groove in the second quarter while erupting for 20 points.
Malaki Stevenson gave the Warriors a 7-3 lead on a 7-yard sprint. Antony Cisneros then hooked up with Eric Rascoe on a 14-yard TD pass before Te’lem Turner struck for a 13-yard touchdown run.
Marshall closed within 20-14 on Bernard Dankyl’s 6-yard run and Marcellus Davis’ 87-yard gallop, but the Warriors got a little insurance when Christian Allen capped a drive with a 3-yard TD scamper.
Clark 38, Holmes 31
Clark scored 31 first-half points and held off Holmes in the second frame to claim the come-from-behind win.
Holmes owned an early 14-0 lead on Christopher Melor’s 8-yard touchdown run and DQ Haney’s 35-yard TD sprint.
Christopher Ozken tied things up with his touchdown runs of 9 and 7 yards and David Sanchez added the go-ahead TD on a 4-yard run.
Holmes came back with Raymond Rios’ 39-yard pass to Jake Lee, but Clark quickly broke away from the 21-21 deadlock.
Benjamin Hooper zipped a 62-yard pass to Kenneth Bivins’ Jr. and Alan Rodriguez kicked a 20-yard field goal for a 31-21 halftime lead.
Hooper, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 250 yards threw a 9-yard TD pass to Luke Gibson for a 38-24 lead. Holmes pulled within seven points on Christopher Melero’s 2-yard run, but the Huskies (1-8, 1-7) were unable to establish any more offense as Clark’s defense foiled all plans for a comeback.
Stevens 21 Taft 6
Stevens relied on a stout defensive effort to register its win over the Raiders.
The Falcons (4-5, 3-5) limited the Raiders to two field goals from Bryan Medina (42, 31 yards). Although Taft’s defense was equally solid, the Falcons made the most of three opportunities to pull out a victory.
Clarence Lee gave Stevens a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. After Medina kicked his first field goal in the second period, the Falcons held a 7-3 lead until quarterback Josh Ramirez scored on touchdown runs of 15 and 9 yards in the fourth quarter.
Southwest 42, Harlan 35
Harlan came up short in its bid for a District 15-4A Division I title as Southwest won the shoot-out that went down to the wire.
The Hawks (6-3, 3-2), however, are still in the playoffs during their first year of varsity football.
Harlan jumped to a quick 7-0 lead on Jacoby Logan’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Espinoza. Southwest quickly responded with three TDS for a 21-7 lead.
Quarterback Kannon Williams got Harlan’s offense revved up by throwing touchdown passes to Logan (62 yards) and Aubrey McDade (9 yards) for a 21-21 tie.
The second half got even wilder.
Both teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, before Southwest erupted for a 42-28 advantage in the fourth period.
Harlan closed the gap with Williams touchdown, but the Dragons held off the Hawks’ at the end.
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