By Zach Cavanagh
PARAMOUNT – San Juan Hills knew it had to take its shot.
After giving up tying score in the final minute on the road, Paramount scoring on its second play of the overtime and the Stallions driven back 15 yards on their first play of the overtime, San Juan Hills coach Rob Frith dug deep into the playbook, and the Stallions executed.
John Gaines hauled in a 34-yard pass off a flea-flicker play, Austin Hogan ran in his fourth touchdown of the game and Hudson Jones tossed up a two-point conversion to a seated Jake Hall to send San Juan Hills over Paramount, 29-28 in overtime, and to their first CIF-SS championship game in a Division 4 semifinal on Friday at Paramount High School.
“Had to,” Frith said of the two-point conversion. “We’ve had that dialed up for two years… On the road, we say, hey, let’s win this thing and go home.”
Fourth-seeded San Juan Hills (10-3) will be on the road again in the CIF-SS Division 4 title game at Loyola of Los Angeles (6-6) on Friday, Nov. 29 or Saturday, Nov. 30.
“It feels great that I’m along for the ride with these guys,” Frith said. “For me, as a head coach, I’m so proud of my guys and what they’ve earned for their school. It’s about them. It’s about this senior class setting their legacy. I’m so thankful to be here. No better place.”
San Juan Hills was playing in its first CIF-SS semifinal, but the senior-laden back-to-back Sea View League champions were ready for the challenge.
“It’s all the seniors. We’ve worked so hard,” San Juan Hills senior Joey Hobert said. “They’ve grinded each and every day and not let anyone down. We knew coming into this year we were going to do something, because this class, the 2020 class, has been working super hard.”
No. 1 seed Paramount (11-2) executed its two-minute drill on a 95-yard game-tying drive.
Paramount got a huge 35-yard tip toe catch on the San Juan Hills sideline to set up at the Stallions’ 4-yard line.
Paramount was driven back, and on a fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Kingston Hala threw his third touchdown pass to tie the game, 21-21, with 26 seconds remaining.
“We knew coming into this game it was going to be a tough one,” Hobert said. “I don’t think they’ve seen a team like this all year. We started off a little slow, but we picked it up.”
San Juan Hills won the overtime coin flip and elected to start on defense.
Paramount rode the wave of its final-minute score with a 16-yard pass on its first play and 9-yard touchdown run on its second play for the lead, 28-21.
The Stallions’ first play was a setback as they were penalized for intentional grounding.
However, on second-and-22, Hogan took the hand-off, reversed to Hobert, who handed to Jones for the flea-flicker pass, and Gaines nestled it in at the 3-yard line.
Hogan, a senior, pounded in his fourth touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run, and then San Juan Hills lined up for the two-point conversion.
“Let’s go. It’s the time,” Frith said. “It’s the look we wanted. We were going to bang a timeout if we didn’t get what we wanted. It was there. All we had to do was play catch at that point.”
San Juan Hills put in an extra tackle, shifted that tackle and put Hobert in motion. Hobert ran a rub route over the top, and Hall leaked out the left side. Jones tossed up an easy ball, Hall took a seat in the end zone and wrapped his entire body around the ball to secure the conversion and the win, 29-28, and send the San Juan Hills bench spilling onto the field.
“It feels amazing,” the senior Hall said. “All the hard work we’ve been through. I’m just glad I was able to make the catch and send us off to the final. It was all in the moment… It was a scary moment. I knew I could do it.”
Jones finished 14 of 19 passing for 143 yards passing. Gaines caught six passes for 61 yards. Hogan ran for 78 yards on 23 carries with all four Stallions touchdowns.
The game was a battle right from the start, as both teams’ defenses were locked in from the start.
San Juan Hills racked up four sacks, with two from Elliot Degroote and one each from Tyler Wegis and Jonah Johnson.
Paramount cracked the scoreboard first midway through the second quarter on a 14-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead.
San Juan Hills responded with a 12-play drive, and Hogan’s first score of the day on a 3-yard run to tie the game, 7-7.
San Juan Hills managed only 72 yards of offense in the first half, but the Stallions held Paramount to 102 yards of first-half offense.
“We said it’s like hitting concrete with a sledgehammer,” Frith said. “At the beginning, your hands are gonna hurt a little bit. It’s going to be uncomfortable but that’s okay. Keep banging away, the concrete softens up, you get in your rhythm and you go.”
San Juan Hills went ahead midway through the third quarter with the help of Hobert on special teams.
Hobert pinned Paramount with a punt to the Pirates 3-yard line. After a three-and-out, Hobert then returned the Paramount punt to the 12-yard line.
San Juan Hills took the lead three Hogan runs later with a 6-yard score, 14-7.
However, San Juan Hills special teams then set up Paramount, as the Stallions kicked consecutive kick-off attempts out of bounds. Paramount started at midfield.
The Pirates scored on an eight-play drive with a 6-yard TD pass to tie the game, 14-14.
In the fourth quarter, Hobert finally got his first two receptions to get San Juan Hills going on a scoring drive. Hogan burst forward on a 17-yard TD run to put San Juan Hills ahead, 21-14.
At the end of the Stallions’ next drive, Hobert had another excellent punt that put Paramount at the 5-yard line, but that didn’t stop the Pirates on their game-tying drive.
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.