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San Marcos defense steals spotlight

11/29/2013, 11:16pm PST
By Jim Lindgren, Special to the U-T

Knights return two interceptions for touchdowns to beat Granite Hills.

San Marcos’ Cameron Cruz jumps over the goal line to score a TD in the first quarter against Granite Hills. Hayne Palmour IV • U-T

— Normally prone to winning with offense, San Marcos got a host of huge plays from its defense to gain entry to its first championship game since 1987.

The leading receiver in the San Diego Section and his half-brother each had a long interception return for a touchdown to lead the No. 5-seeded Knights (9-4) to a 28-17 win over No. 8 Granite Hills (7-6) on Friday night in the Division III semifinals.

Senior Isiah Hennie, who has 93 catches for 1,462 yards this fall, intercepted an errant throw at the 48-yard line and weaved his way through traffic into the end zone to seal the win with 5:58 to play.

“Be versatile,” Hennie said. “Whenever my team needs a play, I want to come through. Today, it happened to come on defense.”

Midway through the second quarter, Hennie’s sophomore brother Terrell Burgess intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 103 yards to put the Knights up 14-0.

“It was pretty cool,” Burgess said. “My thought process was I saw the post coming from the opposite side. I just took it. I knew it was mine.”

After beating Santa Fe Christian last week 3-0, the Knights saw their defense propel them into the title game Dec. 7 against Christian at Mesa College.

“It’s hard to beat good teams when you spot them 14 points,” said Granite Hills coach Kellan Cobbs.

Trailing 21-14, Granite Hills had two golden chances to tie it, but quarterback Chris Meredith was sacked on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line.

The culprit: Hennie.

Then moments later, again at the 1-yard line, Collins was tackled for a 2-yard loss and the Eagles settled for a 20-yard field goal by Bryce Strickland.

San Marcos took an early 14-0 lead only to see the Eagles match that before halftime. The Knights’ Cameron Cruz capped a 7-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone, and Burgess’ interception made it 14-0.

The Eagles bounced back two plays later as Josh Longbrake hauled in a 64-yard TD pass from Seth Collins to make it 14-6. Moments later, Michael Ledesma intercepted a pass from Will Freed and returned it 46 yards to set up an easy 1-yard TD run by Jesse Bisbal to tie it 14-14.

Averaging 241 passing yards per game, the Knights had only 13 yards at halftime along with two interceptions.

The Knights took their first possession of the second half 78 yards in nine plays to take a 21-14 lead after Tyler Nix hauled in a 27-yard TD pass from Freed.

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