Andrew Devoe was one of the smallest players on the field Friday night, but he came up with the biggest play of the game, intercepting a pass in the end zone with 11 seconds left to seal Banning’s 35-28 victory over Crenshaw in the City Section Division I championship game at Birmingham High.
Crenshaw had marched to the Pilots’ 25-yard line and faced third and 10 when quarterback Donce’ Lewis threw in the direction of his favorite target, Roberto Salazar, who had the ball in his grasp for a split second before Devoe wrestled it away in midair and clutched it to his chest as they fell to the ground.
“That’s their main guy and I knew I had to be on him,” said Devoe, a 5-foot-7 defensive back. “Height doesn’t matter to me. I saw the quarterback scramble and figured he was going to heave it. We both went up for the ball, it was in his hands and I took it from him.”
Salazar banged his fists on the turf in anger as the referee signaled it was Banning’s ball.
“I had the ball in my hands but when I was coming down and trying to secure it he ripped it out,” Salazar said. “I didn’t have the best angle on it, but no matter what I’m proud to be part of this team and Donce’ is my guy … we have great chemistry and I’m always going to be there for him.”
One kneel-down later it was over, and a postseason that had begun with bitter disappointment ended in joyous celebration for Banning (8-6), which secured its first City title since 2000 as the top seed in the section.
“We wanted to be in the Open Division, but once we didn’t make it we were motivated to win to show that we should’ve been an Open Division team,” said Banning quarterback Robert Guerrero, who began the game having thrown for 2,268 yards and 18 touchdowns.
His 14th rushing touchdown came on a two-yard keeper that capped a 13-play, 66-yard drive and gave the Pilots a 35-28 lead with 2:01 left.
“We really needed that score and we’ve been practicing that play all week,” Guerrero added. “With our O-line, I knew we could get the yards we needed.”
The third quarter was a wild, back-and-forth affair — just the way the second quarter ended.
Steven Perez took a handoff up the middle 66 yards for a score on the first play from scrimmage in the second half to give Banning a 21-14 lead. Crenshaw’s Collington Tillett took a pitch around left end four yards for a touchdown that made it 21-21 approaching the halfway point of the third quarter.
Jordan Villanueva ran for a 66-yard touchdown to put Banning ahead 28-21. Four minutes later, Lewis scored on a one-yard sneak to pull Crenshaw even at 28-28 with 2:50 left in the quarter.
The game opened as a defensive battle between Banning and third-seeded Crenshaw (11-3), the Coliseum League champion, before both teams caught fire in the second quarter.
Pedro Ibanez caught an eight-yard pass from Guerrero for the game’s first score with 10:50 left in the first half. Lewis found Salazar for an eight-yard touchdown that evened the score with 4:07 left in the half after Lewis avoided two defenders to buy extra time in the pocket, but Ryan DeAngelis responded with a 37-yard scoring run to put Banning back on top 14-7 with 1:40 left. Lewis and Salazar went back to work, connecting in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown to tie it 14-14 with 16 seconds left in the half.
Since Banning won its first title in 1958, no team in the City has won more. Friday’s title was the Pilots’ 13th.