What do you do when you face a fourth and two at your own 28 with 3:43 left in the game and you’re leading by two points in a CIF quarterfinal playoff game? Well if you’re West Covina Coach Mike Maggiore it’s an easy call. You go for it.
“We weren’t getting a lot on our punts and my thinking was, and I’ve always been like this, wrong or right, is I’d rather finish the game and have the ball. Although our defense played pretty well I want to have control of our destiny with the ball,” Maggiore said. “I feel pretty good that we can get a first down. We didn’t finish that drive but we got a little bit of time off the clock and it helped.”
Antonio “Noodles” Hull made Maggiore look like a genius picking up four yards and the first down.
The Bulldogs ate up a little bit of time indeed. By the time West Covina punted and Muir got the ball back there was only 1:29 left and the Mustangs were at their own 23. Joshua Muema-washington was forced to throw the ball three consecutive times into a defense that knew he was going to throw. All three tosses fell incomplete and West Covina walked away with the victory and into the Southeast semi finals.
West Covina, although not the team it was last year, has looked like it the last three weeks. After losing to Bonita 38-21 on October 12, the Bulldogs were sitting at 5-5 overall but more importantly 2-2 in the Hacienda League. Every game since has been a playoff game. A loss would have eliminated the back to back defending Southeast Champions from post season consideration and West Covina has responded with four straight victories to advance to the semis for a rematch of last year’s Southeast Finals with La Serna.
“We’re just excited to keep playing. We’re at that time of year where you get one more week of football and that’s a big thing,” Maggiore said. “We get to practice on Thanksgiving and go back to the semi finals. We’re a different team than we were last year obviously and they have a lot of the same guys back. I know they’re going to be tough but we just have to be prepared to play and see what happens.”
To get there, West Covina’s defense also had to be up to the task. Muir had been averaging almost 40 points a game over the its last three contests including a 44-17 rout of Cal last week. The Mustangs have athletes at every skill position. Guys like Muema-washington, Andreece Brown, Mason Taeon and Lamar McDaniels are hard to contain.
The Bulldogs held Muir to 19 points. Niko Johnson led the charge with two interceptions and the rest of the defense fell in line.
“We just tried to keep it as simple as possible because they had so many athletes on the field. I didn’t want to create a lot of lanes or them,” said West Covina DC Jason Heilman. “Our kids played really hard and did what they were told to do. They dropped into zones that they were supposed to drop in to and they stayed over the top on the deep routes like they were supposed to.”
Johnson also was the guy that tipped the ball away on fourth down to end the game.
“He’s one of those kids that just works his butt of all the time,” Heilman said of Johnson. “He did all the little stuff. He went into today and watched some film with the coaches at lunch time and he knew the routes they were going to run. He was right where he was supposed to be and made some good plays.”
Johnson and the rest of the D will need to make plays again to get past La Serna Friday night. Last year’s score: West Covina 84 La Serna 21. My prediction? It won’t be 84-21.
That’s my principle.
Tim can be reached at email@example.com