MURRIETA — It took until midway through the second quarter for Vista Murrieta to earn a first down Saturday night against Rancho Cucamonga, but only two plays to score two touchdowns in overtime.
The second-seeded Broncos then stopped Rancho Cucamonga running back Sateki Finau for no gain on fourth-and-goal from inside the one-yard line, securing the 35-28 Inland Division semifinal victory at Vista Murrieta.
“I couldn’t let my team down, I had to make a play right there,” said Vista Murrieta senior linebacker Manuel Moreno, who was the first to make contact with Finau. “I just jumped up in the pile, tried to make a play, cut him right there, then my teammates rallied to the football.”
With the victory, the Broncos advance to play top-seeded Corona Centennial in the championship game next weekend. Vista Murrieta lost to Temecula Chaparral in last season’s final.
Vista Murrieta (12-1) did not get a first down on its first three drives. Meanwhile, the Cougars scored on their opening drive, a one-yard run by Finau.
The Broncos were set to punt on their fourth drive, but Derrick Brown, who also plays quarterback, saw the punt return team had quickly dropped back, so he ran 21 yards up the middle for a first down.
Two plays later, he hit Darion Williams with a 33-yard touchdown pass, his first completion of the game in six attempts, tying the score, 7-7.
The score remained even until midway through the third quarter, when Brown hit Michael Mazur on a 20-yard touchdown pass. The Cougars answered with a 35-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Dimitri Morales to Donovan Harden with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
However, Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to put the Broncos back ahead, 21-14, and quiet the sideline of third-seeded Rancho Cucamonga (11-2).
Rancho Cucamonga managed to stop Vista Murrieta on fourth-and-one at the Bronco 35 with 7:31 left, then marched down the field and tied the score, 28-28, on a one-yard run by J.T. Huggins with 1:46 left.
During the drive, however, Morales suffered an apparent concussion on an 11-yard run inside the Vista Murrieta 10, leaving the Cougars without their quarterback in overtime.
Starting on the 25-yard line in overtime, Finau took the snap in the wildcat formation and ran the ball six straight times, scoring on one-yard run to give Rancho Cucamonga a seven-point lead. Finau finished with 149 yards in 38 carries.
Brown, the Utah-bound senior who finished with 132 yards rushing in 19 carries, scored on a 25-yard run on the first play for Vista Murrieta.
Rancho Cucamonga was called for a leverage penalty while trying to block the point-after attempt, allowing the Broncos to start on the 12-yard line after they won the second coin toss. Once again, Brown needed just one play to score and give his team a 35-28 lead.
“Coach called the same play twice,” Brown said. “He’s crazy, he likes to take chances.”
The Cougars again leaned on Finau on their second possession of overtime. He moved the ball to the one-yard line, but that’s when the Broncos made the key stop and then stormed to midfield in celebration.