Mission Hills' Scott Higgins makes a fingertip catch for a touchdown as Oceanside's Jordan Miller defends.
At one end of Qualcomm Stadium early Monday evening, Cathedral Catholic’s Jack Onstott held the football aloft, his 98-yard, game-ending interception complete. White-clad teammates rushed the field, celebrating the Dons’ triple overtime 37-31 San Diego Section Division I championship win over San Pasqual.
On the opposite end of the field, San Pasqual quarterback Sebastian Tengan, who played admirably, squatted in a catcher’s stance, staring at the grass. A coach jogged to Tengan’s side, consoling him.
And there, in one picture, you were delivered part of what makes high school football so magical. Unadulterated joy. And heartbreak.
After a one-year hiatus, Qualcomm opened its doors and invited high school football back into its crib for three championship games.
The Q may be a little long in the tooth and an eyesore, but it’s where the preps long to play.
“The fact we’re back at the stadium, in front of this awesome crowd, winning a Division I championship,” said Cathedral offensive lineman Aaron Mitchell, “it’s one of the best feelings ever.”
The triple-header kicked off at 11 a.m. with St. Augustine dealing Mission Bay a 49-0 rout in Division II.
Then came Cathedral Catholic-San Pasqual. Kickoff under daylight. Finish beneath the lights. If ESPN had been televising, you’re talking Instant Classic.
Then came the big boys. Mission Hills, claiming its first football title, stiff-armed the yardstick for local football, Oceanside, 36-14 in the Open Division.
Holding the trophy for the student section to admire, Mission Hills head coach Chris Hauser yelled, “And it doesn’t say runner-up.”
Three times in their 10-year history the Grizzlies had finished second.
While Saints-Buccaneers was ugly on the scoreboard, it was colorful elsewhere and delivered a life lesson.
From Halo Joe, the student mascot, to the raucous student section, The Pit, to the band members in their Hawaiian-print, purple-and-white shirts and purple Converse, all-boys St, Augustine is never dull.
Halo Joe explained it was only his second game of the season. Seems his uni, halo and all, had to go to the cleaners and this wasn’t exactly same-day service. Took weeks to come back.
“It needed to go through heaven to get cleaned,” the mascot explained.
Mission Bay might have lost, but Bucs senior Franklin Gaylord carried himself like a champion.
Early in the third quarter the Bucs trailed 35-0 but appeared to be going in for a TD. Instead, Saints linebacker Tyler Herburger picked off a pass at the 2 and headed toward the opposite goal line.
By midfield it was obvious Herburger would score. Nothing but grass and white yard markers in front of him. But from at least 20 yards back, Gaylord gave chase, kept sprinting, never giving up on the play.
“I did not want that guy to score,” said Gaylord in the locker room, his eyes red from crying.
He didn’t catch Herburger. But when the Saints’ linebacker crossed the end zone, Gaylord was right on his heels.
“When you give an effort like that, that’s not something you coach,” said Mission Bay head coach Willie Matson “That’s what’s inside the young man.”
As for the Cathedral-San Pasqual triple OT, this was high school football at its best. Two physical teams landing haymakers, then a stunning, sudden conclusion.
Asked what flashed through his mind when he saw the interception come his way, Cathedral’s Onstott said, “It happened so fast, it just ended up in my hands. I saw an open lane and I just ran.”
“Our boys, we just played our hearts out,” said San Pasqual linebacker Kyle Hendrickson, who racked up a game-high 21 tackles. “You can’t always come out on top, but we played a helluva game.”
As the night concluded, Mission Hills’ players took turns grasping the team trophy. They were serenaded by the Grizzlies’ 116-member Cardinal Alliance band.
The band’s song of choice: “Give It To Me Baby.”