MONTEREY PARK -- Fifty years from now, Lance Fernandez will have some story to tell.
He’ll say he broke right and burst through a gaping hole. He’ll say he saw nothing but green turf in front of him, and he'll rave about how he bounced into the end zone. He'll recall that he sent one loyal fan base into hysteria and another into a lull.
Fernandez broke a 75-yard touchdown run with under two minutes remaining Friday night, clinching a 29-15 Garfield victory in the 77th annual East Los Angeles Classic before an estimated 18,000 at Weingart Stadium on the campus of East L.A. College. In all, Fernandez rushed for four touchdowns and 162 yards.
"That was my dream, to win this Classic for everyone," Fernandez said.
The Garfield defense had a large part in it as well, stuffing Roosevelt on three consecutive goal-line attempts midway through the fourth quarter, setting up Fernandez's dramatics. The Bulldogs didn't allow any points in the second half.
"They stepped up, it was good to see them come alive," Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez said.
Three of Fernandez's touchdowns came in the first half. His third score, from four yards away, put Garfield (5-5, 5-1 Eastern) up for good just before to the break. Fernandez capped the first drive with a one-yard dive up the middle but Roosevelt answered back on the very next play from scrimmage thanks to running back Michael Galindo’s 76-yard scoring dash. A successful two-point conversion gave the Rough Riders an 8-7 lead.
After Fernandez reached the end zone for the second time and a two-point try made it 15-8, Roosevelt linebacker Juan Garcia jumped in front of a Nicky Peralta pass and returned it 15 yards for the tying touchdown.
In the end, Roosevelt (5-4, 3-2) was doomed by its inability to stop the run. Fernandez did his thing and fullback Larry Ravelo provided a nice change of pace, bruising his way to 94 yards in 15 carries. Roosevelt's defense simply didn’t look like the same one that had held South East’s Robert Lewis, one of the top tailbacks in the City Section, to a mere 11 yards earlier in the year.
"Lance did a great job," Hernandez said. "It took him a little late to get started but he did a great job for us."
Garfield, without question, traveled the bumpier road to Friday night’s showdown. The Bulldogs opened the season with five straight losses, playing a grueling nonleague schedule consisting of Bishop Amat, Huntington Beach Edison, Dorsey and St. Paul. Their only league loss came against undefeated South East, the odds-on favorite in Division II. Garfield captured the rivalry trophy and, as a cherry on top, clinched a Division I playoff berth.
A large bilingual banner behind the Garfield bench simply asked, “Got ganas?” The English translation: Got desire? Got drive and determination?
Behind Fernandez, the Bulldogs had plenty.
"On that last one," Fernandez said, "I thought to myself, 'First down, first down.' Once I saw all that green I hit it as fast as I can. That was the fastest I've ever ran."