Desert Pines players were well it had been almost exactly a year to the day Friday night that Faith Lutheran overcame a large first half deficit to defeat them in the Division 1-A Southern semifinals. And if they needed any reminder of the painful 48-41 loss to the eventual state champions, all they had to do was look at their hands.
“As you can see, I have 364 (written inside) my hand,” junior Trevor Nofoa, showed reporters after scoring the game-winning touchdown and ensuing 2-point conversion with 4:10 remaining in a 34-27 victory over the Crusaders. “It was 364 days ago we blew an 18-point lead to these guys. And we kept reminding each other of that at halftime.”
The 364 was also written inside the palm of senior cornerback Gianni Breland, who came in off the left edge untouched on 4th-and-goal at the 2-yard line with 2:16 left to tackle running back Christian Marshall for a two-yard loss and seal the win for the Jaguars.
“That loss was on our minds for 364 days,” Breland said. “(Defensive end) Anthony Smith took the block and nobody touched me. It was a great feeling for us to win this one.”
Desert Pines, which dominated the first half with a strong ground game, led 14-0 early in the second quarter on touchdown runs 4-yards by Nofoa and 2-yards by explosive 5-foot-7 sophomore Isaiah Morris, who finished with 168 yards on 32 carries. But Faith Lutheran rallied to cut the deficit to 14-13 on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Greg Benson to Mark Rubalcaba and a 65-yard fumble return by Alfred Soboyejo just 29 seconds before intermission.
The Jaguars answered when Jon McCoy returned the ensuing kickoff 75-yards for a touchdown to increase Desert Pines lead back to a touchdown, 20-13, at halftime.
“At halftime we were all reminding each other, ‘364, 364,’” Nofoa said.
Desert Pines boosted its lead to 26-13 on Nofoa’s 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter before the Crusaders scored on a 3-yard run by Marshall and a 11-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from Benson to Tyler Mahan. Ryan Callan’s PAT gave Faith Lutheran it’s first lead of the game, 27-26, with 7:03 remaining.
But Desert Pines answered with what proved to be the game-winning touchdown drive capped by Nofoa’s third touchdown run of the game.
Still, there were some anxious moments at the end when Benson drove the Crusaders all the way to the Desert Pines 2-yard line before Breland’s game-clinching tackle on Marshall, who barely got the handoff before getting tackled.
“They’ve been here before and lost by seven points,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “This time they just willed their way to the win.”