MURRIETA -- Coming into the football season, there was no doubt where the strength lied on the Vista Murrieta football team. They had some jewels on the defensive side of the ball, but were young and inexperienced on offense.
They sure learn in a hurry.
The Broncos won a shootout, 35-28, against high-scoring Corona Centennial in the Inland Division championship game Friday night at Vista Murrieta High, scoring the winning touchdown on a 30-yard run by junior quarterback Nicholas Stevens with 26 seconds remaining.
The offense had grown so confident, they were begging coach Coley Candaele to pass on setting up for a field goal while trailing by a point in the final minute and go for the touchdown.
”We were setting up for a field goal, there was no doubt,” Candaele said. “The offensive guys were wanting to take shots and I was being conservative and wanted to put it in our kicker’s hands. They were playing for the pass too, and we got them on the run.”
Stevens faked a handoff then weaved through the defense en route to the biggest touchdown in school history.
“I just started running for my life,” he said. “Our goal was to get in field goal range, and the line blocked the play perfectly and the hole opened up.”
Stevens also threw two touchdown passes for the Broncos (9-5), who will wait until Sunday to hear whether they’ve been accepted for a state bowl bid next week at Home Depot Center. Vista Murrieta went undefeated on the field, but had to forfeit five nonleague game for using an ineligible player who was later granted a hardship waiver to continue playing.
“If they don’t choose us, then it’s wrong, just pure wrong,” Candaele said.
Centennial came into the game as the top-seeded team and defending champion in the division. A victory would have pretty much guaranteed the Huskies a second consecutive state bowl berth and fourth in the last five years. But they couldn’t muster a first down on their first two possessions and went into halftime trailing, 17-7.
“I was surprised at how physical they were,” said Centennial quarterback Hayden Gavett. “On film, they showed they were physical, but they were just really physical. That’s where they got us.”
Trailing by 13 points early in the fourth quarter, the Huskies made a run, scoring on a 57-yard touchdown run by running back Romello Goodman with 8:45 left, and taking a 28-27 lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gavett to Giles Guy-Williams with 3:29 remaining.
The Broncos got the ball back, however, picked up a first down on fourth and five on a juggling 13-yard catch by Bradley Trujillo and later drawing Centennial off sides on a fourth and three at the Centennial 40 with 44 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Stevens scored on his touchdown run.
“I was just disappointed in the amount of mistakes that we made and the whole game was played on our side of the field,” said Centennial coach Matt Logan, who fell to 6-1 in section finals. “It’s tough to win when you do those things, especially against a good team like that.”