ANAHEIM -- For the first time since 1948, Tustin has a championship team. The Tillers turned in a Herculean performance Saturday at Angel Stadium against third-seeded El Toro, a team that averaged 44 points on offense and allowed 12 on defense through the first 13 games.
El Toro plays at a manic pace, and so Tustin plodded along throughout the game trying to slow it down. They handed the ball off over and over, and with seven players going both ways, took good long breaths between plays. They chewed up the turf and the clock, and in the end, the Tillers controlled the pace and scored a 35-28 upset to claim the Southwest Division championship.
This was the seventh championship game for Tustin (11-3), and its third in four years, and it was one of the program's finest moments. The Tillers had beaten top-seeded Villa Park in the second round, and Empire League rival Foothill in the final minute in the semifinal.
Tyler Siudzinski rushed 35 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and Terence Martinez carried scored two TDs, one a 45-yard score to breathe life into his team. And Edward Tandy returned an interception 52 yards for a score that was as good as a punch to the gut.
Five times Tustin converted fourth down opportunities -- including twice in the final five minutes deep in their own territory: the 29-yard line, and the 23.
"We don’t give the ball up," said Tustin coach Myron Miller, who tied for a section title in San Diego at Ramona in 1989, lost once at Costa Mesa and three times at Tustin before getting doused with Gatorade Friday. "This is not a hard decision for me. If we can’t get two yards, we’re going to shake their hands and give them the trophy. I’m a line coach, and I’m not going to tell my line that I don’t believe they can get two yards. When I go in that huddle, they believe and say we’ll get it for you."
And they did: Tevita Pauu, Tim Tautuaa, Lomitusa Sasi, Alex Melendez, Lopeti Tuipolutu, David Maka and Greg Hoyd.
It was a stunning outcome. El Toro (12-2) had its way early, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter through the magic of Conner Manning, who completed 24 of 41 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. He also was intercepted twice. He finished the season with 4,225 yards, 41 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Manning produced scores on El Toro's first three possessions, on passes of 20 yards to Dominic Collins, 17 to Blake Murphy and, after Martinez's long run for Tustin, 20 yards to Cody White. In less than 10 minutes, El Toro had a 21-7 lead, and a clear shot to its first title since beating Servite in 1995.
But the Tiller defense came to life, and so did the offense; it produced a 17-play drive that consumed 7 minutes 12 seconds, and when Martinez scored from the five with 2:28 left in the half, it was 21-14 and a ball game.
"That was our biggest fear," said El Toro coach Rob Frith of the Tillers effectively working the clock.
Tustin drove 80 yards to open the second half with Siudzinski scoring from a yard, and 91 seconds later, Tandy returned an interception 52 yards to give the Tillers a 28-21 lead with 4:43 left in the third.
"I just played my zone and was lucky enough to get under it and make the catch," said Tandy, who also returned an interception for a touchdown against Cypress in a critical Empire League victory that created a three-way tie for first place. Because of coin flips, Tustin entered as the league's third-place entrant. "It was surreal, like slow motion."
On Tustin's next possession, it used 13 plays to go 59 yards, taking more than six minutes off the clock for a 35-21 lead with 9:04 remaining as Siudzinski scored from 10. Rather than punt, Tustin converted a fourth-and-one at the 50 in order to keep the ball out of El Toro's hands.
It was likely the prudent move because Manning wasn't finished. Less than three minutes later, White caught his second touchdown pass, of 29 yards, on fourth and nine.
Tustin was unable to sustain a game-ending drive -- a fumble gave El Toro another shot at the Tustin 48 yard line. But after reaching the 30, Treshon Broughton intercepted Manning's final pass of the year, and Tustin ran out the final 2:37.