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GARDEN GROVE >> Rancho Alamitos quarterback Isaac Plata found Sal Correa for an 18-yard touchdown pass and the go-ahead points with 42 seconds left to squeak by Santiago 25-22 on Friday night at Garden Grove High.
The Vaqueros (8-1, 4-0) clinched a share of the Garden Grove League championship with the victory in a game that saw four lead changes in the fourth quarter. They can win the league outright by beating Los Amigos next week.
“We have no quit in us,” Rancho Alamitos coach Mike Enright said. “Our kids are resilient. We could’ve folded right there when they got that long touchdown run but we did what we do.”
The long touchdown run was a 72-yard sprint up the middle by Cavaliers running back Art Martinez, which gave Santiago a 22-18 advantage with 2:56 left in the game. That came one play from scrimmage after Vaqueros kicker Angel Diaz nailed a 37-yard field goal to take an 18-16 lead.
“I almost feel like we scored too fast,” Santiago coach Doug Ozsvath said. “Art Martinez broke that one off and I said ‘oh my gosh,’ as I started looking up at that clock.”
Enright felt confident that Plata would lead the Vaqueros downfield for the game-winning score.
“We practice it every day. We’re a no-huddle offense, we don’t go fast every time, but we are a two-minute team,” Enright explained. “We don’t worry about coming from behind because we know we can.”
Plata spread the ball around on the game-winning drive as Anthony Leal (117 yards rushing), Jonathan Nguyen, Matthew Sanchez, Valentino Villa and Correa all got touches on the final possession.
“We use a lot of receivers. We don’t throw to one guy, we’re gonna throw to the open guy,” Enright said.
Plata, a senior, who stepped up to play quarterback after Chris Hurley suffered a season-ending injury, went 14 of 18 passing with 122 yards and two touchdowns, including a 3-yard scoring pass to Sanchez in the second quarter.
The Cavaliers (7-2, 3-1) scored on their opening possession, a 12-play, 64-yard drive capped by Satomai Siofele’s 1-yard run to go up 8-0 after a successful 2-point conversion.
Santiago held a 8-7 lead at halftime but the Vaqueros emphasized their ground game in the second half and Leal was the main force behind the turnaround. Leal ran the ball eight times in an 11-play scoring drive that ended with him scoring on a 1-yard run to give Rancho Alamitos a 15-8 advantage midway through the third quarter.
The Cavaliers answered with Isaac Hernandez’s 8-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to give Santiago a 16-15 lead, the first of four lead changes in the final quarter.
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