NORWALK – They had a prayer answered back in mid-September when faced with a similar situation.
With five seconds left on the clock and a quarterback capable of doing just about anything with the ball in his hand, the La Habra sideline knew it still had a flicker of hope on the final play from scrimmage Friday night in the CIF-SS Southwest Division championship game.
After avoiding San Clemente’s initial rush, scrambling to his right to extend the play, Eric Barriere heaved a 27-yard pass into the back corner of the end zone where a diving Prince Ross made the catch of a lifetime, inciting a celebration no Highlander will forget in La Habra’s stunning 39-36 win over the Tritons on the final play from scrimmage at Cerritos College.
“It’s ironic because we said the team that had the ball last would probably win, but I didn’t realize it would be the team who had the ball with 20 seconds on the clock,” said Highlanders coach Frank Mazzotta, amidst a sea of blue. “With the ball in Eric’s hand, we’ve got a chance. We tried to get the ball in his hands a lot tonight.”
Barriere was nothing short of brilliant in capturing the school’s seventh CIF championship, and its first since 2010. The senior completed 15 of 16 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried the ball 12 times for 98 yards, scoring on a dazzling 38-yard run on which he hurdled a would-be tackler, before splitting two more defenders en route to the end zone.
Ross and Amon Fellows were the only two La Habra receivers to catch passes Friday night. Fellows had eight receptions for 142 yards and a score, and Ross had seven catches for 151 yards and three scores, none bigger or more clutch than the 27-yarder with no time left on the clock.
“I ran through the safeties, Eric was scrambling to his right and he saw me, I was jumping,” Ross explained. “He threw it and I knew I had to get to it. This it it. We have no time left. So I dove and I got both of my legs in.”
La Habra (13-1), which won its seventh CIF-SS title since 2002, jumped out to a 33-21 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run from CJ Taylor (147 yards).
San Clemente (11-3) cut the deficit to four points on the ensuing possession, with quarterback Jack Sears bulldozing his way 27 yards for the score, and then converting the two-point conversion.
With 3:07 left on the clock and the Highlanders driving into the Triton red zone, Mazzotta elected to go for a fourth-and-6 from the 16-yard line. Barriere’s lone incompletion of the night gave San Clemente the ball with plenty of time on the clock.
An 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive ended with Sears’ 4-yard strike to Brandon Reaves, putting San Clemente ahead, 36-33, with 20 seconds remaining.
“When I saw the score, I kind of felt down, but I knew we had a shot,” Barriere said. “I knew our team was capable of scoring again. We got a big return from Eric Lancaster-Garcia, plus the flag.”
Lancaster-Garcia returned the ensuing kickoff to the 45-yard line, with a personal foul penalty giving the Highlanders possession at San Clemente’s 41 with 10 seconds to play.
Barriere hit Fellows with a quick 14-yard pass on the sideline, setting up a play every Highlander will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It was a tough loss and words can’t heal what happened tonight,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said. “But 10, 15 years from now, these guys can look back and say they had a great career here at San Clemente High School. Back-to-back CIF finals, and they put San Clemente back on the map.”