MISSION HILLS -- Alemany's Saladin McCullough had one important responsibility during the waning moments of Friday's intersectional football game against visiting Woodland Hills Taft and that was to hold onto the ball.
Rest assured, the senior didn't fumble. In fact, he turned what was supposed to be a rather basic running play off the end into an exciting 24-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes left on the fourth quarter clock to essentially clinch a 36-26 victory over the Toreadors.
"I was trying to stay inbounds, chew up some clock, and there was no way I was going to cough up the ball in that situation, our coaches would've been all over me,'' McCullough said. "Once I saw the hole, I hit it and took off down the sideline. No one was going to catch me from behind.''
The highlight reel run by the determined McCullough gave Alemany (4-0), No. 12 in ESPNLosAngeles.com's Top 25 rankings, a 36-20 lead and all but ruined any hopes Taft (1-2) might have had at making a comeback.
The Warriors weren't satisfied with a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Accordingly, Jericho Richardson scooped a Taft fumble and returned it 52 yards for a score to extend the advantage to 30-20 with 10:52 left in the game.
Cisrow McClain scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late for Taft. The damage had already been done by Alemany, which came up with big play after big play.
Trailing 13-8 at halftime, Alemany opened the third quarter with a sense of urgency. Vernon Adams appeared comfortable in the pocket and found Shane Drozdowski several different occasions, the final time coming on a 15-yard touchdown pass. The Warriors ended up taking a three-point lead at the 10:29 mark after Adams scored the two-point conversion on a run.
"We came out a little soft, but we were focused in the second half,'' Adams said. "Once we started playing Alemany ball, it was all over. There was no way Taft was going to come into our house and get a win, no way.''
The Toreadors refused to go away quietly. Facing a fourth-and-3 on the Alemany side of the field, Michael Bercovici found Michael Thomas, who turned a short pass into a 37-yard touchdown reception to give Taft a 20-16 advantage and some momentum with 2:52 left in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, Alemany scored again before the fourth quarter started. Adams connected with Kyron DeFour on a 66-yard touchdown pass for the Warriors, who regained the lead, 23-20, with 38 seconds left in the third.
"Give Alemany credit, they made plays when they had to,'' Bercovici said. "We missed out on some chances and that hurt us in the end.''
Both teams failed to score in the first quarter, but Taft got things going in the second quarter behind the running of Dimitray Lewis. He picked up a couple first downs to help the Toreadors move the ball down to the Alemany 27-yard line. Two plays later, Bercovici threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Thomas to give Taft a 7-0 lead with 10:28 before the half.
The Warriors answered quickly. Adams took off 52 yards on a quarterback keeper and Alemany was in business at the Taft 5-yard line. Following a penalty, Cameron Washington scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. Adams found Bryce Henderson for the subsequent two-point conversion to give the Warriors an 8-6 lead with 9:20 left in the second quarter.
Taft responded with a nice drive of its own. The Toreadors methodically marched into the Warriors territory and capped things off when Bercovici connected with Anthony Nickerson on an 8-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead, 13-8, with 6:36 remaining in the first half.
Minutes into the first quarter, Alemany came up with the first big play of the game when Pablo Torres stepped in front of a Bercovici pass and returned the interception to the Taft 31-yard line. Ultimately, however, the Warriors came up empty as Martin Meza's 24-yard field-goal attempt was blocked.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Alemany faced a fourth and 8 from the Taft 24-yard line. Instead of attempting another field goal, the Warriors gambled and decided to go for it. Things didn't work out well as Adams' slant pass to Drozdowski fell incomplete and the Toreadors took over possession.
Adams finished 12 0f 24 for with 219 yards. He also rushed for 30 yards. McCullough ended up with 70 yards on six carries.
Bercovici was 19 for 37 with 208 yards. Thomas added eight catches for 120 yards.