May 29, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Sunny Hills tops Trabuco Hills 31-27 in a classic semifinal that goes to the wire

11/221/9: Sunny Hills' linebacker Carson Irons (9) joyfully runs off field after critical interception in final moments of win over Traduce Hills. Teammates are Kevin Ha (34) and Noah Brown (24). (Photo courtesy Jim McCormack for OC Sports Zone)

Sunny Hills’ linebacker Carson Irons (9) joyfully runs off field after critical interception in final moments of win over Trabuco Hills. Teammates are Kevin Ha (34) and Noah Brown (24). (Photos courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone)

When two teams trying to have a season with a storybook-ending meet, one of the final chapters is going to be a sad one.

Friday night that final entry went to Trabuco Hills, a team that had won only six games combined in three previous seasons (6-24) and, in an improbable tale, was trying to win its ninth game this year and advance to a CIF Division 8 championship football game.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

But, in a heart-stopping classic at Trabuco Hills it was Sunny Hills, which earned the right to write another chapter, holding off the Mustangs 31-27 in a semifinal game that had an uncertain conclusion until time ran out.

Unlike the Mustangs, who have become an overnight success under first-year-coach Mark Nolan, the Lancers have worked for years to get to this point, slowly building from a program that had lost 29 Freeway League games in a row to a club that has been to the playoffs four consecutive years, exiting in the first round the two previous but this season advancing to a Division 8 title matchup at Santa Barbara High School next weekend.

The Lancers’ goal when the season began was to “Play 14,” and they earned that opportunity Friday night.

Trailing by seven entering the fourth quarter, the Lancers rallied to tie, fell behind and then struck for the winning TD with 3:10 to play. 

That didn’t end the  drama, however, it only heightened it. Trabuco Hills (8-5) moved the ball downfield, as it had all night, reaching the Sunny Hills 8 with 12 seconds to play.

Then, in one of those moments that will forever be captured in the memories of everyone involved, a Trabuco Hills pass deflected off the outstretched hands of a receiver and popped in the air, about to drop to the ground. Virtually all on the field regarded the play an incomplete pass.

Except Sunny Hills’ linebacker Carson Irons, who, only plays earlier could barely walk because of a calf cramp, lunging for the ball and catching it just before it hit the turf. 

Photos showed Irons in the end zone after his interception, but officials ruled him down on the one and Sunny Hills had to run one more play before the contest was over, quarterback Luke Duxbury sneaking for a yard to run out the final six seconds.

“They live for these moments,” Lancer Coach Pete Karavedas said after his team had improved to 11-2. “When these opportunities present themselves you’ve got to make the big plays and our boys did that.

“I’m so proud of them. It was the boys who won the game tonight.”

In the joy of victory, the Lancers understood the pain of defeat.

“I feel sorry for them,” said Duxbury. “This would have been a tough game to lose.”

“The most competitive team we’ve played this year,” added Irons.

Trabuco Hills did all it had to do to win most games, shutting down the Sunny Hills’ rushing attack thoroughly after Brandon Roberts went 69 yards for a TD on the Lancers’ first drive and using its ball control offense to keep the Sunny Hills offense off the field.

The Mustangs’ meat grinder offense rushed for nearly 300 yards and had rushing touchdowns of three yards by Nate Ortiz and one yard by Aidan Armstrong, an 18-yard TD pass from Jaxon Smaller to Nick Serpa and a pair of field goals by Luke Holland (30 and 26 yards). Power back Drew Barrett carried the ball 31 times for 154 yards.

The whole afternoon could be spent detailing the improbable moments in Sunny Hills’ victory, but two stood out.

On the first , in the second quarter, Trabuco Hills had tied the score at 7 earlier and was driving for another score and had a 4th-and-3 at the Lancers’ 12. Trabuco Hills gave the ball to Barrett, who was tripped up a yard short of the first down by a diving Irons.

On Sunny Hills’ first play, Duxbury threw the first of three TD passes to Vince Silva, a 90-yard bomb that gave the Lancers a 14-7 lead.

The second improbable moment came in the fourth quarter after Holland’s 26-yard field goal had given Trabuco Hills a 27-24 lead with 5:54 remaining.

The ensuing kickoff took an odd bounce at the Lancer one and Roberts, realizing it was a live ball, tried to return it, being tackled at the six. Moments later, on 3rd-and-6 at their 23, the Lancers ran a trick play, a reverse pass by wide receiver Wilson Cal.

According to Maxpreps stats, no one other than Duxbury has completed a Lancer pass in the last three seasons. Cal’s soaring toss was a jump ball adventure between Roberts and three Trabuco Hills’ defenders. Amazingly, Roberts came down with the ball for a 30-yard gain.

On the next play, Duxbury found Silva open across the middle for a 47-yard scoring play.

Which led to the final exciting pages of Chapter 13.

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—Courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone