LONG BEACH – It was a moment scripted in Eric Barriere’s dreams and it came true in dramatic fashion Friday night, sending La Habra into a CIF championship-worthy celebration in September.
And who could blame the No. 8 Highlanders after the stunning finish to their nonleague game against No. 7 Los Alamitos at Veterans Stadium.
Barriere threw a 44-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game to wide receiver Eric Lancaster-Garcia to lift La Habra to a 37-32 victory.
In typical Barriere fashion, he scrambled across the field to his left on the play, then hoisted a half-the-field pass toward the opposite front, corner of the end zone to Lancaster-Garcia, who caught the ball cleanly in a crowd of about five players.
La Habra (3-1) stormed Lancaster-Garcia in the end zone in a wild celebration.
“I dream of feeling like this, a game like this,” said Barriere, whose TD pass came out of a timeout with two seconds left. “Before the play, I just felt confident. I knew we were going to win this game.
“This is my first (Hail Mary). Finally doing one is pretty crazy.”
Barriere’s heroics capped a back-and-forth second half. Los Alamitos (2-1) took a 32-31 lead with 47 seconds left as Randall Gonzalez scored on a 11-yard touchdown run – on his only carry – and tight end Drew Platt caught a 2-point conversion pass from quarterback Jack Telenko.
The Highlanders started the ensuing drive at their 19. Despite a sack on first down by Joey Noble and a near-interception on second down, Barriere completed two passes to reach the Griffins 44 with two seconds left.
“Very overwhelmed,” said Lancaster-Garcia, who hugged a reporter afterward. “I just did what I was coached to do. I went up for the ball. No regrets. Came down with it. … I didn’t catch any other ball but I came down with it when it counted.”
La Habra led, 24-7, at halftime, passing up a short field goal attempt to take an unsuccessful shot at the end zone.
Los Alamitos surged in the second half behind its defense, Telenko and running back Schuyler Whitehead.
Whitehead scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 14 yards in the third quarter, the latter coming off a fourth-and-1 stand by the Griffins at midfield. Early in the fourth, Whitehead knocked Barriere out of the game for one play, which La Habra fumbled away at its 45.
Los Alamitos drove for a 25-yard field goal by Jacob Gasser with 7:38 left in the fourth, tying the score, 24-24.
Penalties were costly for the Griffins. On the drive, Whitehead had a touchdown run negated by a holding call.
La Habra flexed its ground muscle on the ensuing possession, driving from its 8 for a 12-yard TD run byMadison Wheeler with 4:50 left in the fourth. The extra-point by Holden Remme gave La Habra a 31-24 lead.
But the Highlanders still had to push to the final play to beat the Griffins and show what they learned from a loss against Mission Viejo.
“It just shows how tough we are, especially from last week (against Mission Viejo),” Barriere said. “I felt we should have won that game.”
Before Friday’s game, La Habra coach Frank Mazzotta said, “You can’t leave the door open against good teams.”
Barriere slammed the door on the Griffins on the final play but he also ran for two touchdowns in the first half and threw another.
His two touchdowns were separated by about two minutes in the second quarter. The second one came after an interception by cornerback Michael Walters at the 50 as the Griffins mixed up a pass route. Two plays laterd bat the Griffins 44, Barriere ran right on an option, faked a pitch to juke Whitehead and burst into the secondary. He broke a tackle at the 25 and raced into the end zone for 21-7 lead.