One main point Sunny Hills head football coach Peter Karavedas emphasized immediately after the Nov. 22 CIF Southern Section Division 8 victory over Trabuco Hills was how many times his players have come back from behind to win a game this season.
Against Brea Olinda Sept. 13. In the first meeting Sept. 27 against Trabuco hills. In the first round of CIF playoffs Nov. 8 against Tustin.
The 2019-2020 Lancers are the latest version of the cardiac kids.
“You can hear us shout it, ‘We’re going to win this game.'” Karavedas said in a video interview with The Accolade. “They believe in each other; they believe in our team.”
So it wasn’t a surprise that the rematch against the Trabuco Hills Mustangs would be another nail-biter.
The Lancers scored first early in the opening quarter. After a quick defensive series that forced the Mustangs to punt, running back and defensive back junior Brandon Roberts broke off for a 69-yard touchdown run.
The Mustangs had never faced Roberts before because he was not on the team’s roster until the week after Sunny Hills’ original matchup against Trabuco Hills. Roberts sat out the first five games of the season due to CIF transfer rules.
After being burned by Roberts’ speed, Trabuco Hills responded with a short three-yard rushing touchdown from running back senior Nate Ortiz on a long drive that spanned about two-thirds of the first quarter and included a fourth-and-one conversion from the Sunny Hills 16-yard line.
The Lancers would punt on their next offensive series, allowing the Trabuco Hills offense to drive all the way down to the Sunny Hills 10-yard line, where the Mustangs were faced with another fourth down decision.
For the second time of the night, Trabuco Hills head coach Mark Nolan kept his offense on the field — his team needed two yards for a first down — but was unsuccessful as a wall of Lancer defenders swarmed running back sophomore Drew Barrett and held him to no gain while the Lancer Nation crowd erupted into cheers.
Sunny Hills took advantage of the momentum swing. With just over halfway into the second quarter and with the ball in Sunny Hills’ quarterback senior Luke Duxbury’s hands, Duxbury launched a bomb on the very next play to running back and linebacker junior Vincent Silva, who outpaced the Mustang secondary for a 90-yard touchdown reception.
Duxbury would finish the night with 246 passing yards and three passing touchdowns on just 11 passing attempts.
The play was the first of three touchdowns for Silva, who came up big for the Lancers with 16 tackles, 202 receiving yards on four catches and three touchdowns — the last one being the crucial go-ahead score with three minutes and 10 seconds left in the game.
“[The plays] just came in clutch moments,” said Silva, who had 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns when he first faced Trabuco Hills. “Coach called the right plays. [quarterback senior] Luke [Duxbury] had some amazing throws, and I caught them for touchdowns; simple as that.”
Now with the 14-7 lead and just over five minutes remaining in the first half, a collision between the Trabuco Hills quarterback and running back forced the quarterback to throw away a ball that was intercepted at the line of scrimmage by defensive end senior Austin Martino and returned for 25 yards to the Trabuco Hills 17-yard line.
“It felt really good to have the ball fall into my hands,” said Martino, whose interception was the first of his career. “I [have] always said that I would intercept the ball as a defensive lineman.”
The Lancer offense was unable to gain any yardage from there, and a Duxbury pass to wide receiver and defensive back senior Wilson Cal in the back corner of the end zone was ruled incomplete as Cal had one foot out of bounds during the catch.
Sunny Hills settled for a 35-yard field goal that deflected off of the goal post but still went through the uprights from kicker freshman Mathias Brown, putting the Lancers up 17-7 with three minutes left in the game.
On the ensuing possession, the Mustangs drove down the field and scored on a touchdown pass from quarterback junior Jason Smaler to wide receiver junior Nick Serpa. Trabuco Hills also converted on fourth and inches during the drive.
Leading 17-14 heading into halftime, the Lancers knew their work was not done yet.
“We knew that we were [winning], but during the regular season we had been up at halftime, too, and [Trabuco Hills] came back to take the lead,” Martino said. “We were not satisfied with that lead.”
The Mustangs came out of halftime with a one-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown at the eight-minute and 26-second mark and a 24-yard field goal with two minutes and 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Trabuco Hills alternated between quarterbacks Smaler and senior Aiden Armstrong throughout the game.
Looking at a 24-17 deficit at the beginning of the final quarter of play, the Lancers found themselves in a familiar position. During their previous matchup against the Mustangs, Sunny Hills also entered the fourth quarter down by seven points.
After forcing Trabuco Hills to punt out of the back of its own end zone and starting its drive at the Trabuco Hills 41-yard line, Sunny Hills took advantage of its field position, tying the game up on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Duxbury to Silva with 10 minutes and 52 seconds remaining.
The ensuing Mustang offensive series saw yet another fourth-down conversion before a third-down stop at the Sunny Hills 11-yard line forced Trabuco Hills to settle for a field goal in the end zone, putting the Mustangs back on top 27-24 with five minutes and 54 seconds left in the game.
With the scoreboard favoring the Mustangs, Karavedas once again put the ball into Duxbury’s hands.
Just a few plays into the drive, Duxbury threw a deep jump ball up to Roberts, who was able to catch the ball while surrounded by three Mustang defenders. On the very next play, Duxbury found Silva open downfield for a 42-yard touchdown reception, putting Sunny Hills up 31-27 with just over three minutes remaining.
Now with just four points separating the two teams from a spot in the CIF championship game, Trabuco Hills had reached midfield with 90 seconds left in the game but was faced with its third fourth down decision of the night — this time with only one yard needed for a new set of downs.
And once again, the Mustangs’ coach relied on the rushing game, which earned his squad a fresh set of downs. But with a minute left in the game, Smaler and the Mustangs were forced to rely on their passing attack.
A face-mask penalty against Sunny Hills stopped the clock and moved the ball up 15 yards, replacing what would have been a sack on Smaler.
Another first down conversion set Trabuco Hills up at the Sunny Hills 27-yard line with 40 seconds remaining.
On the next play, Smaler was forced to run, but the Sunny Hills defensive line held him to no gain, and Trabuco Hills used its final timeout to stop the clock.
The Sunny Hills secondary held its own on the next two plays, forcing two balls to be thrown out of bounds. And with 22.8 seconds left, Trabuco Hills faced yet another fourth down attempt — this time, the team had to reach 10 yards for a new set of downs.
With “DE-FENSE” chants echoing from the Sunny Hills student section wearing black and gold school colors and holding gold pom-pomns, Smaler completed a 19-yard pass to a Mustang receiver and quickly ran to the new line of scrimmage at the eight-yard line to spike the ball and stop the clock.
The scoreboard — now reading 12.7 seconds and the game if not the whole season on the line — offered little help for Smaler, who threw a short pass to Trabuco Hills’ leading receiver, senior Jake Naso, that passed through his hands, deflected into the air by Roberts, who was in the game as a defensive back, and was caught by a diving linebacker junior Carson Irons at the one-yard line.
“[I was thinking,] ‘Where was the ball at, and will we take a knee [upon the change of possession],” Karavedas said in a video interview with The Accolade. “I wasn’t in celebration mode until that [clock] hit zero.”
To end the game, Duxbury took the snap and dove into the line of scrimmage, sending the Lancers to a championship game date against Santa Barbara (11-2, 5-0 Channel League) Nov. 30.
The Sunny Hills offensive line was able to hold off star Mustang defensive end senior Chris Crowe, who entered the game with 10.5 sacks.
“We had to keep our heads up every time we failed to score a touchdown,” offensive lineman junior Brian Chang said. “We didn’t care what players they had; we just had to play better.”