Gutsy Highlanders went for glory
- Updated: November 25, 2018
2018 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL
SAN DIEGO CIF DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIP
ST. AUGUSTINE 21, HELIX 20 (OT)
By Jim Lindgren
Special to EastCountySports.com
CHULA VISTA – The call was gutsy, no question about that.
Take a point off the scoreboard and go for a CIF championship win with a 2-point conversion? Or stick with an already made PAT kick and a tie game and take your chances in a second overtime?
That’s the decision Helix coach Robbie Owens faced on Saturday night in the San Diego Section Division I championship against St. Augustine in front of about 8,500 delirious fans at Southwestern College’s DeVore Stadium.
Helix matched St. Augustine’s touchdown on its first overtime possession on a trick pass play from Tim Christopher to Chris Rivera for a 19-yard score, and Elijah Laing converted the PAT to tie the game at 21.
But the Saints were flagged for roughing the kicker, so Helix had the choice to decline the penalty or try for 2 points from 1½ yards out.
After a timeout, Owens decided to go for the win. He called for a running play to Elelyon “Fatto” Noa, arguably the best running back in the county. It was supposed to be the same play, in fact, that Noa had scored on earlier in the game.
Instead, the Highlanders fumbled the snap, and linebacker William Simon recovered it for the Saints.
St. Augustine 21, Helix 20.
Helix once won a section title game (2001) on a “fumblerooski.” Now they lost one on a fumble.
The Saints sought and got redemption for an earlier loss to Helix in the regular season to swipe their fourth section title in school history. Helix had also beaten St. Augustine, 44-30, in the 2015 Open Division championship on this same field.
“It seemed like the right time to take that chance,” Owens said. “I think once we got the half-the-distance call on the penalty, we decided to go for it. We feel very confident in our run game.
“Someone said, ‘If we can’t get a yard and a half, then we don’t deserve to win.’ I felt that way too.
“At the end of the day, it’s not like the play got stopped. We never got the play off. So that’s an unfortunate way to end the season.”
Senior tight end and linebacker Michael Shawcroft had this to say: “When I turned around and saw we didn’t make it in the end zone, my heart dropped. It was a terrible feeling. I just walked off the field.
“It was the same play we scored our first touchdown on, and it was wide open. It would’ve probably been the same, but we fumbled the snap. Nothing more we could do.”
Seeking its 10th section title, No. 3-seeded Helix (8-5) was playing in its fifth consecutive championship game and trying for back-to-back titles after beating Mission Hills, 26-19, last year in the Open Division. The Highlanders also advanced to the state playoffs last year and lost a wild shootout, 49-42, with Folsom in the State Division I-A title game.
No. 4-seeded St. Augustine (10-3) advances to the Southern California Regionals next Friday.
On Sept. 14 at Helix, St. Augustine took a 14-7 lead on the Scotties at halftime, but Helix stormed back in the second half for a 35-14 rout.
“We knew they would be better this time,” Owens said. “Their coaching staff does a good job. They worked hard. They’re obviously a different and better team now than they were.”
Further complicating matters on the game’s final play was this: Noa was nursing a tender groin muscle that somewhat limited his normally explosive abilities.
Noa had gained 150 yards on 25 carries, but he was noticeably not his normal self.
“It’s been bothering him for a couple of weeks,” Owens said of Noa’s groin injury. “No one could tell the last two weeks he’s been dealing with this.”
Over the last two weeks, Noa had gained 633 yards and nine touchdowns. He had 340 yards and five TDs on just 13 carries in a 68-7 rout of rival Grossmont in the quarterfinals. He followed that with 293 yards and four TDs on 25 carries in beating Eastlake 42-26 in the semifinals.
Late in the first half against St. Augustine, however, Noa raced around left end and broke free for what might have been a 92-yard touchdown sprint. After 51 yards, however, he was caught from behind and dragged down. Three plays later, Helix was forced to punt and went into the locker room with a 7-0 lead.
“I could tell it was bothering him there,” Owens said. “He sort of skipped a step on that run, sort of like a thoroughbred horse sometimes does. We knew there were very few bullets left in that gun.”
Fatto had 122 yards on 14 carries at halftime. He gained only 38 more on 11 second-half carries.
“We were saving him for specific spots,” Owens said.
In his place, Joshua Shields rushed eight times for 36 yards, and Xavier Hamlett added 15 yards on five attempts.
Run quarterback Delshawn Traylor posted 50 yards on 13 carries, including a spectacular 17-yard touchdown tiptoe and dive to tie the game 14-14 with 8:34 to play.
Pass quarterback Daniel Amon threw 20 yards to Michael Shawcroft on the Highlanders’ first play of the game, but the Scotties would not complete another pass until the OT TD from Christopher to Rivera. Amon finished 1-of-5 passing for 20 yards.
Traylor, who normally takes snaps out of the shotgun, was under center Noah Viloria on the game’s unfortunate final play.
The Scotties’ defense pitched a shutout in the first half and limited the Saints to just 208 total yards. St. Augustine sophomore Byron Cardwell rushed 17 times for 72 yards and two short TDs, but the Saints netted only 61 rushing yards because of a sack by Jacob Ray for minus-17 yards and a shared sack by Jagger Giles and Jonah Uhrich for minus-6 yards.
Saints QB Angelo Peraza was 15-of-30 passing for 147 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Samuel Scaife III that gave St. Augustine a 14-7 lead with 1:39 to play in the third quarter.
Shawcroft, who is committed to San Diego State as a linebacker, led the Scotties with six tackles, one more than Hamlett, Giles, Ray and John Carroll. Jeremiah Fletcher, Jaiden Brown, Alex Nagy and Zeke Rodriguez each added four tackles.
There were no turnovers in the game until the final play that ended the game.
“We got lucky,” St. Augustine first-year coach Joe Kremer said. “Helix believes they’re a storied program. We think we are too.
“The kids wanted to redeem themselves from the first meeting. We did a better job coaching (this time) because they outcoached us last time.”
Helix forced a three-and-out on Saints first possession. Amon then hit Shawcroft for a 20-yard gain on the Scotties’ first play that ignited an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by Noa’s 1-yard TD.
Lined up in the left slot position, Noa moved right behind the line and took a handoff behind Traylor toward the right side. He then found a hole and cut up into the end zone behind blocks from right guard Nathan Adams and right tackle Isaiah Jatta.
Noa also had a 26-yard pickup on the drive and a 22-yarder on his next attempt after the TD. But Helix would get only one more first down in the first half.
The Highlanders began the third quarter with three successive three-and-out possessions, while Saints reeled off two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead.
“I was really proud of how our guys didn’t get down in that third quarter,” Owens said. “We could have kind of hung it up right there, but our guys rallied.”
Finally, Helix put together a 12-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Traylor’s spectacular diving score over the right end-zone pylon to tie the game.
As Noa rested on the sideline, Shields converted twice on fourth-down runs to extend the drive.
“Shields and Hamlett did a good job when Elelyon was not out there,” Owens said. “But Elelyon is special. He’s a freak of a kid.”
Despite missing 2½ games with a concussion early in the season, Noa finished his junior season with 2,330 yards and 25 TDs.
In three seasons, he now has 4,749 rushing yards and 44 TDs.
Even more impressive, he now has 2,049 rushing yards and 20 TDs in 11 playoff games.
Helix is now 9-11 in section championships games. St. Augustine improved to 4-7 in section title games.
One of the Highlanders’ more memorable banner years came in 2001 when future NFL stars Alex Smith and Reggie Bush were lighting up the scoreboard at Helix. The Scotties pulled off a fumblerooski play that led to a 41-30 win over nemesis Oceanside.
On the play, center Brandon Halama faked a snap to Smith who then faked an option pitch play to Bush going to their right. With Oceanside biting on the fake, senior right guard Zach Burgi picked up the “loose” ball between Halama’s legs and raced around the left end for a 59-yard touchdown.
With Oceanside threatening late in the game, Larry Pierce made a one-handed interception and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game.
As a result of that game, the fumblerooski is now considered an illegal play in San Diego.
Earlier this week, Pierce came to a Helix practice and gave the Scotties an inspirational talk, reminding them how special it is to play for Helix and what a joy it is to play for a championship.
If only they could have that one snap back.
“I felt like it was our personality to go for it,” Owens said, defending his decision once again. “Nine out of 10 times we score on that play. It just happened to be the one time that we didn’t.
“At the end of the day, we had 1½ yards to win and didn’t take advantage of it.”
After the game, Shawcroft said that Owens “thanked the seniors for what we’ve done and let us know he was proud of us. He also reminded the younger guys of this feeling they have, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Coming off a state runner-up finish in 2017, Owens knew this year’s team would have a lot of holes to fill with such a strong senior class graduating last spring.
“This group was so different from last year,” Owens said. “I felt we learned a lot about ourselves this season. After our 1-3 start against some really good teams, this group came around. When we had adversity, like after that Steele Canyon game (a 22-21 loss in the regular-season finale), they handled it really well.”
Saturday’s loss will sting for a while, but as Owens noted: “At the end of the day, it was a great football game. We just came out on the wrong end. It doesn’t take away from the season we had.”
San Diego Section Division I – Final
At Southwestern College
St. Augustine 21, Helix 20 (OT)
St. Augustine 0 0 14 0 7 – 21 Helix 7 0 0 7 6 – 20
H – Noa 1 run (Laing kick), 7:15
SA – Cardwell 2 run (kick failed), 4:53
SA – Scaife 33 pass from Peraza (Peraza run), 1:39
H – Traylor 17 run (Laing kick), 8:34
SA – Cardwell 1 run (kick good)
H – Rivera 19 pass from Christopher (fumbled snap)
FIRST DOWNS 11 12
TOTAL NET YARDS 208 271
NET YARDS RUSHING 61 232
NET YARDS PASSING 147 39
Com-Att-Int 15-30-0 2-6-0
FUMBLES-Lost 0-0 1-1
RUSHING: St. Augustine: Cardwell 17-72, Eismann 1-3, Barry 2-(-1), Peraza 4-(-13). Helix: Noa 25-150, Traylor 13-50, Shields 8-36, Hamlett 5-15, Amon 3-(-19).
PASSING: St. Augustine: Peraza 15-30-147-0. Helix: Amon 1-5-20-0, Christopher 1-1-19-0.
RECEIVING: St. Augustine: McWilliams 8-72, Cavanagh 3-16, Cardwell 2-16, Scaife 1-33, Bermudez 1-10. Helix: Shawcroft 1-20, Rivera 1-19.
TACKLES-ASSISTS-SACKS-TOTAL: St. Augustine: Penick 10-3-0-13, Gibbons 8-4-0-12, Ambagtsheer 7-4-0-11, Williams 5-3-1-9, Simon 6-2-0-8, Heffler 7-1-0-8, Cavanagh 3-2-1-6, Tucker 4-1-0-5, Shields 2-1-0-3, McWilliams 1-0-1-2, Gaeta 0-2-0-2, Marquez 1-0-0-1, Barry 0-1-0-1, Bermudez 1-0-0-1, Sciafe 1-0-0-1, Armenta 1-0-0-1. Helix: Shawcroft 6-0-0-6, Hamlett 5-0-0-5, Carroll 3-2-0-5, Ray 3-1-1-5, Giles 3-1-1-5, Fletcher 3-1-0-4, Brown 3-1-0-4, Nagy 2-2-0-4, Rodriguez 4-0-0-4, G. Martinez 2-1-0-3, Traylor 2-0-0-2, Gazad 1-0-0-1, Alvarado 1-0-0-1, Uhrich 0-0-1-1, Meredith 1-0-0-1.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: St. Augustine: Simon 1.