SOUTH GATE -- For a few hours Friday night, the community got lost in a game of football.
There were tears before South East's 42-21 victory over visiting Roosevelt. There were hugs and distraught faces. The school had a moment of silence in memory of Cindi Santana, the South East student who was fatally stabbed on campus on Sept. 30. Cheerleaders held each other. Jaguars players commemorated Santana by sticking pink 'CS' decals on the back of their helmets.
Brutal violence had shaken the six-year-old school a week before. On this night, unity was the prevalent theme. The wounds were still fresh but, after kickoff, the home crowd cheered on its undefeated team.
"This team has been through a total roller coaster," South East coach Derwin Henderson said. "They decided, as a team, to not only play for Cindi but to play for this community, play for this school. It's destiny. They feel like they can go out and beat anybody."
With the way Jonathan Santos threw the ball, the Jaguars (6-0) could very well be the favorites to capture the City Section Division II title. The junior quarterback completed 21 of 33 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Christian Quiñones had three touchdown catches and Juan Nevarez added 144 yards receiving to help South East pull away.
"We're sad," Santos said. "Everything is happening so fast. But every week we've got to work hard. God is watching us and everyone else is watching us. Hopefully we have their support."
They did all this without a monstrous showing by Southern Methodist commit Robert Lewis. Roosevelt (3-3) keyed in on the senior tailback, holding him to 11 yards in 15 carries. Lewis was dropped for negative yardage five different times and didn't find the end zone until the last carry.
The Roosevelt Rough Riders were aggressive in their upset bid. They recovered an onside kick to open the game, went for it on fourth down and scored on an eight-yard run from Anthony Flores to assume a 7-0 lead. It was a 14-13 game late in the third quarter but the Jaguars scored 28 unanswered.
"We have more than just Robert," Henderson said. "We have a total team. We have some college-bound players on this team. We played as a team. ... This is the first game where we've been down. We talked about it this week with the emotional thing last week and Cindi being killed. I told them during the week, 'There's going to be times when you're down and we have to fight through adversity.' This is a close-knit, unified team."