By Tim Peterson
(Hacienda Heights) – Paraclete survived four turnovers and scored twice in the fourth quarter to beat Los Altos 21-14 Friday night to win the CIF Division 6 title before a capacity crowd at Los Altos.
Although the Spirits had trouble hanging on to the ball at times , Los Altos turned it over three times of its own including a critical fumble in the third quarter. The Conquerors were down 7-0 but scored on the opening drive of the third quarter behind the bruising running of Tyler Nevens to get even. On the next series Michael Salcedo fell on a Paraclete fumble and the Conqs were in position to take the lead at the Spirit 17. Then came a game changer.
Three plays later, Nevens busted off a run from the ten yard line and as he hit the one and was going down he reached out in an attempt to get the ball over the goal line. Instead the ball popped loose and rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. The officials gathered to decide if Nevens was down but the call stood. Instead of a 14-7 Los Altos lead, and momentum on its side, it was still 7-7 and Paraclete ball at Conqueror 20 with 3:20 left in the third quarter.
The momentum didn’t change immediately as Spirits drove to midfield and turned the ball right back over to Los Altos. The Conqs were forced to punt however and Paraclete took over at its own 24. From there the Spirits drove 76 yards on ten plays with KJ Latu finishing the march with a six-yard touchdown run with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter.
Los Altos caught a huge break on its next possession when Paraclete fumbled the punt and Los Altos recovered at the Spirit 12 yard line. Again the men in stripes huddled up to see if the Paraclete returner had time and space to make the catch. The Paraclete sideline screamed in protest but the ball was awarded to the Conquerors. It took just three plays for Nevens to blast into the end zone from a yard out to tie it at 14 with 4:56 left.
Paraclete put together the winning drive on the following possession. And although the game winner came on bizarre fashion, the Spirits got it done. They needed just six plays to score but the last one was one to remember. From the Los Altos 28, Paraclete quarterback Tooni Ikahihifo busted up the middle on his way to an apparent touchdown. However he was hit about the five-yard line and the ball was jarred loose and scooted into the end zone. Fortunately for the Spirits, Chris Ramirez was there to fall on it for the clincher with 2:34 left. In a game that featured seven turnovers in all, it was fitting for the last score.
Los Altos got the ball back but was unable to move it into Paraclete territory. Kody Olmos, who was under duress all night from the Paraclete front, was sacked at the Los Altos 17 on fourth down. After a couple of kneel downs the Spirit celebration began.
Los Altos had opportunities throughout the contest but was unable to take advantage. On the opening possession of the game, Anthony Chavez intercepted Ikahihifo to set up the Conqs at their own 44 before moving down to the Paraclete 23. However a 44-yard field goal attempt failed when the snap was bad.
The Conquerors fumbled twice in the first half – once when tight end Art Vargas was hit after a short reception and the ball squirted loose into the arms of a Spirit defender.
Paraclete scored the only touchdown of the first half, when Latu found paydirt with 3:37 left in the second quarter on a two-yard run. After the break Nevens tied it with a two-yard dash early in the third.
Nevens was the bell cow for Los Altos. Despite the fumble, he rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Olmos was six of nine for 52 yards but was sacked seven times.
For Paraclete, Jamaal Bell had 114 yards on 19 carries and Latu had just 23 yards but had two scores.
The loss was especially bitter for Los Altos. It was the Conqs second loss in the CIF Final in the last three years. They were 13-0 coming in.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow. I’m really proud of the kids. I love those guys, those seniors. They’ve worked so hard for so long,” said Los Altos HC Dale Ziola. “They’ve worked hard for everything they’ve accomplished. They certainly deserve to be where they’re at.”
Paraclete finished 10-4 overall but the Spirits won ten of their last 11 games after starting the season 0-3.