As the prep columnist for the Los Angeles Times, it’s my job to choose which games to watch on Friday nights for 16 consecutive weeks, trying to see the best play against the best while also seeking out intriguing storylines and hoping for drama and excitement.
The 2023 high school football season exceeded expectations in terms of witnessing some amazing finishes. Call it luck, call it intuition, call it good timing. Whatever the reason, the finishes were better than any roller-coaster ride.
Let’s start with St. John Bosco defeating Corona Centennial 43-42 in the Southern Section Division 1 semifinals. Remember Centennial came in as a heavy underdog. The team that was making a massive number of turnovers early in the season while getting blown out 56-28 by Bishop Gorman had grown up, from quarterback Husan Longstreet to running back Cornell Hatcher Jr.
It was a back-and-forth, no-holds-barred masterpiece, with St. John Bosco quarterback Caleb Sanchez answering every time Centennial would strike. It came down to a single play with eight seconds left. Centennial went for the two-point conversion and victory. Longstreet kept the ball on a zone read, slipped and was tackled by St. John Bosco’s Jordan Lockhart. But then Centennial recovered the onside kick and got two plays off. A sack ended the game. Relief for St. John Bosco. Frustration for Centennial. Thrills for fans on both sides watching a classic.
On a Saturday afternoon at Valley College, Chatsworth and Fairfax went into overtime to decide the City Section Division II championship. Chatsworth lost the ball on a fumble during its first overtime possession. Then Fairfax won it when quarterback Ivan Levant made a perfect pass to Darvens Joseph in the end zone to give the Lions a 20-14 victory.
Unseen by many was the true sportsmanship afterward. While most of the Fairfax players were celebrating, several went over to a despondent Chatsworth player to offer support. Their parents and coaches should be proud showing lessons were learned about how to act in victory and defeat.
Then came a most memorable two-game stretch since starting to report on high school sports in 1976. San Diego was the city for both events that ended with improbable final plays.
First it was Birmingham defeating Del Norte 30-28 in the Division 3-AA regional bowl game on a 52-yard pass from quarterback Kingston Tisdell to Devyn Jackson after Peyton Waters tipped the ball like a volleyball player making a pass.
“If we practice that, we definitely would have screwed it up,” coach Jim Rose said afterward.
“I can’t believe we won,” Waters said.
The next night, on the final play, St. Bonaventure defeated St. Augustine 21-20 in a Division 1-A regional bowl game with a double pass from quarterback Anthony Wolter to receiver Max Peters to receiver Kayin Booker to tie the score. , Then came George Mann’s winning extra point. The fact St. Bonaventure got the ball back on its own 30 with eight seconds left and no timeouts yet still won was extraordinary. The fact coach Joe Goyeneche, a former manager under legendary coach Jon Mack, called for the trick play was like betting on double zero at a roulette table.
“What just happened?” a St. Bonaventure assistant coach said afterward.
There were more final-play craziness happening away from me, including Simi Valley beating Mira Costa in overtime in the Southern Section Division 6 final after the stadium lights went out for 20 minutes and Warren twice winning playoff games in overtime on final plays.
It was the season of miracle finishes.
There are people who truly dislike the competitive equity model in playoff competition, but it’s producing close, unforgettable results.
It made my 47th season covering high school sports thrilling and nerve-racking while changing story leads at a moment’s notice.