A football playoff game for the ages Friday night between two of Southern California’s titan programs, St. John Bosco and Corona Centennial, came down to one final play with eight seconds left.
The Huskies trailed 43-42 after a one-yard touchdown run by Cornell Hatcher Jr. and went for the win by trying a two-point conversion. St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro called a timeout and sent a clear message to his players.
“We brought the kitchen sink,” he said.
Quarterback Husan Longstreet faked a handoff to Hatcher, briefly slipped while going to his right and linebacker Jordan Lockhart, with help from Dutch Horisk, brought Longstreet to the turf. It was the crushing blow that delivered victory to the Braves (11-1) in the Southern Section Division 1 semifinals and sends them to next Friday’s championship game against Mater Dei at the Coliseum.
“I’m getting too old for this,” Negro said of a game that featured six touchdown passes from St. John Bosco’s Caleb Sanchez and five touchdown runs along with 221 yards rushing on an astounding 45 carries for Centennial’s Hatcher.
“It was 50-50 whether we’d be able to stop them,” Negro said of the two-point conversion attempt.
Lockhart said he just followed directions.
“Do your job,” Lockhart said. “I had to keep the quarterback contained and I did that. Man, these are the games why I came to Bosco. Pressure turns to diamonds.”
The improvement Centennial (9-3) made from the first game, a loss to Mater Dei in August, to Week 13 was impressive. Longstreet’s development, in particular, left the Braves humbled. The junior passed for 282 yards and ran for 76 yards.
“He’s the best quarterback in the state,” Centennial assistant coach Anthony Catalano said.
Centennial made enough mistakes to cost it victory. There was a missed field-goal attempt, a missed extra-point attempt, two missed two-point conversion tries and lots of penalties.
“I think our kids played their tails off,” Centennial coach Matt Logan said. “It’s a shame there were so many flags thrown.”
It was a wild, entertaining first half for those who enjoy nonstop scoring. The two teams combined to score on their first five possessions before St. John Bosco finally emerged with a 28-24 halftime lead. Sanchez had so many open receivers he must have thought he were opening presents on Christmas morning. He had touchdown passes of 23, 62, 65 and 73 yards, completing six of eight passes for 237 yards. Stacy Dobbs caught two of the touchdowns. Sanchez finished 13-of-21 passing for 328 yards.
Centennial held leads of 21-14 and 24-14 because of its ability to run the ball with Hatcher, who gained 144 yards in 22 carries and scored two touchdowns by halftime. Stops on defense were rare. Both offenses were in peak form. Centennial’s offensive line was creating holes for Hatcher, and Longstreet was also delivering, passing for 202 yards and one touchdown in the first half.
A slow start in the third quarter by St. John Bosco gave the Huskies an opening. Hatcher scored on runs of 11 and two yards for a 36-28 lead. Then St. John Bosco tied the score with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard touchdown catch by Madden Williams and two-point conversion pass to Dobbs. St. John Bosco went up 43-36 with 3:29 left when Tommy Maher caught Sanchez’s sixth touchdown pass from four yards out.
There was more drama after the two-point conversion failed. Centennial recovered the ensuing onside kick, but St. John Bosco sacked Longstreet two plays later at the 45-yard line to end the game, though he never really went down and started running toward the end zone. The play was ruled over.
Logan and Negro have great mutual respect for each other. They both live in Huntington Beach and understand that one or the other stands in the way on the path toward winning a Division 1 title. Centennial defeated St. John Bosco in 2014 and 2015 in championship games. The Braves have enjoyed recent success in the matchups, winning 52-14 the last time they met in the 2019 playoffs.
Now the Braves get to play Mater Dei in what has been an almost yearly second game against their Trinity League rival to decide the Division 1 title. St. John Bosco defeated the Monarchs 28-0 on Oct. 13 in league play. It’s the sixth time in seven seasons they will meet for the title.
“Mater Dei, we’re coming,” Lockhart chanted walking away.
These two schools met for the Southern Section Open Division basketball championship last March, and the game ended indramatic fashion, with Centennial winning on a dunk as the buzzer sounded. This time it was the Braves’ football team coming out on top.