In a seesaw battle that saw eight lead changes, the Foothills Christian Knights emerged with a 44-38 over the Calvin Christian Crusaders in the Division 6 championship game.
Senior running back Caleb Tarver led the way for Foothills, scoring their first four touchdowns of the night -- all from more than 50 yards away.
In addition to claiming the Commissioner's Cup, the Knights also avenged their only loss of the year -- a 38-24 defeat at the hands of the Crusaders back on September 2.
Senior quarterback Daniel Hoffman missed that matchup -- and much of the season -- due to a variety of injuries. After nearly two months on the sidelines, he made it back on the field for the rematch.
When asked if he was 100 percent, he started to answer: "Oh, no. I was..."
Then a pause.
And finally: "I was 100 percent. I'm always 100 percent."
Regardless of his true percentage, Hoffman provided the game winning score -- a 26-yard pass to Garrett Bankhead that put the Knights up 44-32.
"When I got out there and ran a play," said Hoffman, "I was just like, this is what I've been wanting to do all year, and I couldn't -- I was out for like ten games. So just getting out there and playing was just one of the most special moments."
The game went back-and-forth from the beginning, with a 58-yard run from Tarver followed by a pair of Calvin scores -- a 69-yard scamper from Daniel Esguerra and a pick-six from Matt Lafler -- to make it 12-8 Crusaders.
Then Tarver and Jordan Thomsen traded scores. Tarver a 54-yard touchdown run. Thomsen a 63-yard touchdown pass from Lafler. Tarver again for 54 yards. Thomsen 71 yards from Lafler. And finally, one more 54-yarder for Tarver, which put the Knights up 30-26 midway through the third quarter.
Lafler put the Crusaders back on top with a 17-yard strike to Bryce Lovisa. But Josh Gates rumbled 35 yards to the end zone to make it 38-32 Knights.
Foothills sophomore Jadon Bankhead broke the string of alternating scores, picking off a Lafler pass early in the fourth. That set up Hoffman's pass to Jadon's older brother Garrett.
Calvin cut the deficit to six as Lovisa reeled in a great catch on a 26-yard pass for Lafler's fourth touchdown.
But Foothills salted the game away, with the final first down coming on an over-the-top pass from Hoffman to Garrett Bankhead. And after a couple kneel-downs, the Knights were officially Division 6 champions.
PREVIEW: The Commissioner's Cup is on the line this Friday night in the Small School Game of the Week, as the undefeated #1 Calvin Christian Crusaders (9-0) and the #2 Foothills Christian Knights (10-1) battle for eight-man supremacy.
This is just the second year that the Cup has served as a championship game for Division VI. Calvin claimed the inaugural version with a win over the Rock Academy, and your intrepid Red Jacket crew will be live on the scene to see if they can go back-to-back. Tune in for pregame coverage during the PrePR and full highlights after the game.
The Crusaders cruised past #4 Borrego Springs in the semifinals, by a final score of 51-0. They've won the last four matchups against Foothills, including a 38-24 victory on September 2.
Junior quarterback Matt Lafler has provided exceptional efficiency from the pocket. He picked up an interception against the Knights -- but hasn't thrown another one the rest of the season. While he's completed a modest 60 passes, the average length of those completions is over 20 yards. And over a quarter of them (16) have turned into touchdowns.
Lafler also contributes to the ground game (51 car, 299 yds, 7 TDs), where the Crusaders pick up the bulk of their yards. Daniel Esguerra leads the way with just over 1000 of those yards, plus 14 scores. Wesley Salzman (66 car, 735 yds, 16 TD) and Mason Crouch (57 car, 496 yds, 7 TD) round out a well-balanced attack.
Not many quarterbacks can say they also lead their defense in tackles, but Lafler has a team-high 82 from his linebacking spot. Crouch sets the pace with 9.5 sacks, while Jordan Thomsen has picked off 6 passes.
Foothills advanced to the championship game with a 44-20 win over #3 St. Joseph Academy. Caleb Tarver, Josh Gates, and Eli Hale all had 14 carries, as the Knights ran for a team total of 327 yards and 6 touchdowns. Foothills has leaned on the running game all season, with that trio leading the way.
Sophomore linebacker Jadon Bankhead paces the team with 104 tackles, while Gates has a team-high 13.5 sacks at defensive end and Hale has 9 interceptions.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Mission Bay High School. Follow the action on Twitter and Instagram at @kusippr and @redjacketarmy. And of course, you can see all the highlights on the Prep Pigskin Report at 10:30 p.m., only on KUSI.