Mission Hills’ Scott Higgins comes down with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Connor Wynn as Helix’s Jalen Davis defends in the fourth quarter of the CIF Open Division semifinal game on Friday. The play proved to be the winning margin for the Grizzlies. Hayn
SAN MARCOS With his offense stalled, Mission Hills High football coach Chris Hauser turned to one of his best defenders.
And Ricky Liuchan delivered big time.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker switched to offense on Mission Hills’ second series of the second half, carrying seven times for 25 yards, scoring on a 3-yard run that flipped the momentum as the top-seeded Grizzlies rallied for a 24-21 win over fourth-seeded Helix in Friday’s Open Division semifinal.
The victory propels Mission Hills (11-1) to the championship game Dec. 2 in Qualcomm Stadium against North County rival Oceanside.
“No doubt, the plan was to run Ricky in the second half,” Hauser said. “We were somewhat disappointed in our offense in the first half.
“We just didn’t get deep enough in our inventory to use Ricky in the first half.
“As a coach, you have to make decisions, and I decided to use Ricky regardless in the second half.”
Liuchan finished with 12 carries for 42 yards.
He helped kill the clock late in the game, too.
“Coach trusts me to run the ball,” Liuchan said. “He told me I was going in, and it was two hands on the ball and run straight ahead.
“I fumbled against San Pasqual (Mission Hills’ only loss). I wasn’t going to do that again.”
Mission Hills took advantage of a Helix (9-3) fumble midway through the fourth quarter.
With the Highlanders driving, kicker/safety Esteban Senteno, who has been bothered by ankle problems, picked up a fumble at the Mission Hills 22 and returned it to the Helix 26, 52-yard momentum switch.
Four plays later, quarterback Connor Wynn hit Scott Higgins with a 10-yard scoring pass, a touchdown that proved to be the winning margin.
“They’re good. We’re good,” said Helix coach Troy Starr.
“Games like this usually come down to the end. It was a back-and-forth game. And momentum shifts were big.
“We’re very young. We’ll learn.”
Helix sophomore tailback Nathan Stinson rushed 24 times for 176 yards. Sophomore quarterback Michael Austin passed the Highlanders to the end zone late in the fourth quarter, hitting Jalen Davis with a 25-yard scoring pass.
Helix led 14-10 on the strength of two long runs.
Stinson opened the scoring with a 24-yard touchdown run on the Highlanders’ first series. Stinson set up the touchdown with a 51-yard run, bouncing an off-tackle play outside.
Mission Hills scored on a trick play when Higgins fielded a punt, then pitched to Nate Ostrom, who sped untouched down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.
Helix regained the lead when Austin scrambled out of the pocket under pressure and raced untouched 76 yards to the end zone.
Mission Hills, which had gone three-and-out on its previous series, then put together a drive that stalled at the Helix 25.
Senteno connected on a 43-yard field goal attempt to make it 14-10 at halftime.