The first-ever appearance by a team from the CIF Central Section in the six-year history of the CIF Bowl Game format proved fortuitous for Washington Union of Easton.
The Panthers (14-0) rode a 14-0 first quarter lead to post a 21-16 Division III victory over Campolindo of Moraga in the 12 noon game on Saturday in Carson.
The contest was billed as a matchup of a Cinderella Campolindo team, fresh off back-to-back upsets of Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman and Kentfield Marin Catholic in the North Coast Section Division II playoffs, against the explosive offense of Washington Union and its record-setting wide receiver Deontay Greenberry.
Greenberry added to his records, but his defensive play and that of his Panther teammates was the difference in a game that at times looked like neither team really wanted to take charge and put the other away.
“I wasn't even supposed to play defense, but coach put me out there and I was able to make some plays. We came up big when we had to,” Greenberry told Cal-Hi Sports.
Campolindo (14-1) moved the ball well on the game’s opening drive but stalled on Washington Union’s 29-yard line and gave the ball up on downs.
It would be the first of six drives the Cougars would have that got inside the Panther 30 that resulted in only one field goal and one touchdown.
When Washington Union got the ball, Donald Phelps immediately broke of a 34-yard run on the first play and the Panthers were in business.
Five plays later, quarterback Chris Cain found Greenberry for a 26-yard touchdown pass and Washington had a 7-0 lead it never relinquished.
Padding his records
Greenberry, who was pretty much held in check by the double- and triple-teaming of Campolindo’s defense, finished with four catches for 57 yards and the one score.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior entered the game with state records for touchdown receptions and yardage in a season, according to the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book. He ends the year with 109 catches for 2,165 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Unable to run the ball
Although Campolindo held Washington Union scoreless for 27:42 after falling behind by two touchdowns, its offense never really got untracked and couldn’t put a big enough dent in the Panther defense to close the gap.
The Cougars’ running game that coming in averaged 161 yards and over two touchdowns per game, managed only 72 yards and one score.
Campolindo junior quarterback Brett Stephens was 25-of-40 for 264 yards, but his four interceptions matched the number he had coming into the game.
Game MVP: Donald Phelps
Phelps, who rushed for a 182 yards, also had two of the picks on defense. Greenberry added an interception and a fumble recovery.
“I just wanted to come out and play hard and do what I could do for the team on defense,” said Phelps. “No, I don't think our defense has been overlooked this season. We practiced hard all week against certain plays and dominated.”
Despite the turnovers and an inability to take advantage of field position, Campolindo closed to 14-10 on a 36-yard pass from Stephens to Griffin Piatt with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
When Mason Windatt intercepted Cain on the final play of the third quarter, Campolindo got the ball and an opportunity to take the lead.
However, this game belonged to the boys from the Fresno suburbs. After two short Campolindo runs, Washington Union’s K.C. Migliore stepped in front of a would be Cougar receiver to intercept the pass and snuff out the opportunity.
Five plays later, Cain took it in from 1-yard out and the game was all but over.
Campolindo would score with 44 seconds remaining on a 19-yard Stephens to Windblatt TD pass, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Greenberry to seal the deal.
Greenberry now becomes the second straight player to set a state record and win a CIF Bowl Game title. Mr. Football State Player of the Year Dano Graves turned the trick last year with Folsom. His record was for rushing-passing combined touchdowns.
“That was the goal I set in the summer. Yes, both of them. I wanted a state record and a state championship,” said Greenberry, who is still committed to Notre Dame, but will visit USC later this weekend with teammate/cousin Tee Shepard, a Fresno Central transfer that was denied eligibility by the section.
Despite the loss, Campolindo coach Kevin Macy was upbeat in defeat.
“We've been playing with house money for such a long time. There was nothing left to give,” Macy remarked. “It was such a tough week, and we were so spent from our playoff run, that when we got going, it was a little too late. But I don't have any regrets.”
For Washington Union and the Central Section as a whole, the victory would seem to legitimize the fact that teams from the valley belong in the CIF bowl games.
"It feels great. I kept thinking right at the end, 'Wow, this is really going to happen,'” said Washington Union coach Jeff Freitas. “I don't want to say anything about the selection process, but I definitely think it's time for more teams (from the Central Section) to get the opportunity. With new games next year, you'll see more teams here in the future."