At the highly anticipated California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Division 7 Finals, San Gorgonio pulled off an underdog victory, 27-21, in overtime in their own stadium against Norte Vista, for the first football CIF title ever for San Gorgonio and the first sports CIF title since 1987.
“Everyone doubted us but we believed in ourselves. We played for each other and fought for each other,” said Norte Vista wide receiver Tyreque Jones.
San Gorgonio won the coin toss and deferred, allowing Norte Vista to receive the opening kickoff. The Braves quickly lost possession of the ball after a quick turnover. The San Gorgonio Spartans’ possession was characterized by quick run plays, maneuvering down the field to the 33 yard line. However it was senior Xzavier Leslie’s reception that brought them into the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead with the extra point, four minutes into the game.
The kick to Norte Vista flew out-of-bounds, forcing the Braves to start on the 25 yard line. Senior Eric Melesio, one of the best prep running backs in national history, constantly ran the ball, gaining ground down the field. They were unable to make a first down and were forced to turnover.
With 5 minutes left in the half, Norte Vista’s defense found a whole in the Spartan’s offensive line and sacked San Gorgonio quarterback Kaleb Hayes for a 13-yard loss. At fourth and 23, the Spartans punted the ball off to Norte Vista.
San Gorgonio defense held back the Braves from moving down the field and caused a quick turnover before the quarter end. The first quarter ended, 7-0.
However, Norte Vista quickly attained possession of the ball after sophomore Chris Melesio caught an interception near the 50 yard line. The braves continued their tactic of running Melesio down the field. Melesio fumbled the ball near the 22 yard line but this did little damage as San Gorgonio fumbled the ball shortly after gaining possession and Norte Vista senior Stanton Manumaleuna recovered the ball.
With seven minutes left on the clock until halftime, Melesio continued to maneuver down the field through San Gorgonio defensive line and ran in for a touchdown, tying up to San Gorgonio with the extra point, 7-7.
San Gorgonio returned the kick down to the 22 yard line. Hayes ran down the field for two consecutive 13-yard gains. On the 44 yard line, the Spartans fumbled the ball and Norte Vista senior Hector Becerra recovered the ball. As usual, they ran Melesio but a penalty was called on the play. Norte Vista was forced to fall back 20 yards. At second and 30, Melesio ran 18 yards down the field but was stopped before he could reach the first down. On third down, Melesio ran for first down but instead fumbled the ball.
The Spartans recovered the ball with 2 minutes left until halftime. Norte Vista’s defense continued to hold the Spartans from moving down the field and caused a quick turnover.
Norte Vista regained possession of the ball with a minute left on the clock. The Braves were unable to reach the end zone before the end of the half as their usual tactic of using Melesio to outrun the Spartan’s defense faltered.
The first half ended, 7-7.
San Gorgonio began the second half with possession of the ball. Hayes’ hesitation to throw the ball caused the Spartans a 10-yard loss because of his sack. Hayes and Jones continued to run down the field until third down and the ball was on the one. The Spartan’s fumbled the ball and Norte Vista recovered the ball on the 12 yard line. Melesio ran the ball down the field but again fumbled near the 42 yard line and San Gorgonio regained possession.
Hayes’ hesitation again cost the Spartans a five-yard loss. Freshman Jae Vonn Frison received the ball at the six yard line but then fumbled it. Norte Vista recovered the ball but stagnated causing a quick turnover of the possession of the ball.
The San Gorgonio Spartans broke through earlier stagnation and moved down the field. Hayes ran in for a 27-yard touchdown, bringing the score up 13-7 with no extra point.
Norte Vista attained possession of the ball with a minute and 30 seconds left in the quarter. The Spartan’s defense remained strong but offense waned, as they continued to stagnate. Norte Vista’s Melesio ran in for another touchdown, and took the lead with the extra point, 14-13.
The Spartans moved down the field with two quick receptions to Leslie, bringing them to the 25 yard line. The Norte Vista defense however held them from any further movement and caused a turnover. Melesio again went to work, slipping through the Spartan defense for another touchdown, widening the lead, 21-13, with the extra point.
With two minutes left in the game, San Gorgonio’s faltering offense seemed out of the game. Despite this, Hayes maneuvered through Norte Vista’s defensive line and achieved another touchdown, tying up the game at 21-21 with the successful two-point conversion. The time ran out in the quarter and the game went into overtime.
Norte Vista began with possession of the ball, but the Spartans gained control after yet another fumble. Hayes moved up the field and finally positioned the Spartans at the eight yard line. Hayes then threw the ball to Leslie who scored the game-winning touchdown.
“At first it was a play for our quarterback to run and I was supposed to block for him but after the timeout coach switched up the play. He had faith in me and my teammates and I had faith in my line,” Leslie said. “We’ve been predicted to lose every single CIF game this year, we are used to being underestimated.”