By Zach Cavanagh
LOS ANGELES – On the campus of a 154-year-old school, it was the 12-year-old school that made history on Saturday night.
San Juan Hills senior Joey Hobert scored a rushing touchdown, returned a fumble for a touchdown and blocked an extra point as the Stallions pulled out a victory over Loyola of Los Angeles, 21-15, and captured the program’s first CIF-SS championship in the Division 4 title game at Loyola High School.
“We worked so hard for this, all the seniors,” Hobert said. “We knew that this was going to be a senior led team the whole time. Since the last game of last season against Calabasas, we knew we were destined to do something great with this team. We all knew it.”
San Juan Hills (11-3) won its second straight Sea View League championship, first CIF-SS quarterfinal and first CIF-SS semifinal to reach its first CIF-SS championship game and championship. Loyola (6-7) had won six CIF-SS championships in its history.
“For a lot of schools, either you’ve won a championship or you haven’t,” San Juan Hills coach Rob Frith said. “For this program, still being such a relatively new school, for us to get this thing done tonight, forever San Juan Hills has won a CIF championship in football. No one can ever take that away from this group.”
The Stallions aren’t done with firsts yet either, as San Juan Hills will play in its first CIF Southern California Regional playoff game next week. Brackets will be released on Sunday, Dec. 1. Check the South OC Sports Facebook and Twitter for more information tomorrow.
With the Hobert fumble recovery and interceptions from James Gaines and Chase Schmidt, San Juan Hills has forced a turnover in each of its last 13 games and multiple turnovers for the in nine games, including the last three playoff games.
Frith said one of his keys to the game was a “championship defense,” and despite some late yards, the Stallions defense showed up as it had all season.
“I feel blessed,” senior defensive end Tyler Wegis said. “Senior year, we got to bring the whole team together and made such a large run to the championship. It’s a great opportunity.”
San Juan Hills established its game plan and mentality on their first drive of the game.
After a three-and-out to open the game, Loyola punted and pinned the Stallions at their own 1-yard line.
San Juan Hills then rode senior running back Austin Hogan 13 times on a 16-play, 99-yard drive that was capped with a powerful 9-yard TD run by Hogan for the lead, 7-0.
‘He’s a beast,” Frith said of Hogan. “Hard yards. In league and in the playoffs, we’ve relied on him a ton, and he’s deserved it.”
Hogan carried the ball 27 times for 133 yards and the one score. Hogan scored four touchdowns in San Juan Hills’ semifinal win at Paramount.
Loyola responded with its own lengthy 14-play drive that ended with a 8-yard touchdown run. San Juan Hills then blocked the extra point, but it was retried after a roughing-the-kicker penalty. The Stallions burst through again on the second attempt with Hobert getting the block to keep San Juan Hills ahead, 7-6.
Hobert, a Washington State commit, came through again on the first play of Loyola’s next drive.
The Cubs threw a short pass to the right, and seniors Bryce Crider and Jake Hall wrapped up the receiver and forced a fumble. Hobert scooped up the loose ball and ran 25 yards for the touchdown, 14-6.
“Once the ball was out and I saw it on the ground,” Hobert said, “I wasn’t going to stop running unless the whistle blew.”
San Juan Hills stopped one last Loyola threat of the half when James Gaines pulled in an interception on the last play of the first half.
On the other side of halftime, San Juan Hills continued to put up a strong defensive effort by stuffing the potent Loyola running game.
Midway through the third quarter, Hogan flipped the field with a 38-yard run and continued to grind yards after contact.
San Juan Hills then switched it up as Hobert came in as a wildcat quarterback. Hobert carried the ball three straight plays, including on a fourth-and-inches and a five-yard touchdown run, to put San Juan Hills further ahead, 21-6.
Loyola didn’t go away quietly, as the Cubs ignited their passing attack.
Loyola scored on a 17-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter, but Billy Hester knocked down the two-point conversion pass to keep San Juan Hills ahead by two scores, 21-12.
Loyola got a stop, but the Cubs could only manage a 34-yard field goal to stay in the game, 21-15, with under five minutes to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Loyola recovered an onside kick, and suddenly, the game and the championship were in the balance.
With time winding down, Loyola shot for the end zone, but the Stallions had the route well-covered. The ball was tipped, and Chase Schmidt made a diving play at the back of the end zone to haul in the interception and ice the win for the Stallions.
The game was a sellout at the unique downtown Los Angeles site, which quelled concerns that Stallions fan base wouldn’t necessarily travel from South Orange County to deep behind the county line.
“I just love that everyone came and supported us,” Hogan said. “They didn’t have to make the hour drive out here, but they did. But them coming out helped us.”
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.