The #1 Christian Patriots withstood a late flurry from the #4 Lincoln Hornets, keeping their undefeated season intact and advancing to the Division III championship by a final score of 35-34.
With just under a minute left, a 12-yard Micah Edwards touchdown pulled the Hornets to within one -- but the ensuing onside kick bounded out of bounds, allowing the Patriots to close out the contest in victory formation.
Through most of the night, the teams followed the script from when they met earlier in the season -- a see-saw battle for the first couple quarters, with Christian pulling away in the second half.
Joey Morones struck first for Christian, on a two-yard touchdown run. And Asante Hartzog answered for Lincoln with a 12-yard scamper of his own.
Brad Jeremiah connected with Theo Goodwin on a 27-yard catch-and-run. And Da'Jon Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards, making the score 14-13 after the extra point hit the upright.
In the second quarter, Lincoln took its first lead on a 66-yard sprint from Hartzog. But Morones closed out the half with a one-yard plunge to put Christian back up 21-20.
The Patriots opened the third with a trick play, as Goodwin took the pitch and heaved a pass to Ethan Contreras that eventually turned into an 84-yard score. And when Tshombre Carter crossed the goal line to put the Patriots up 35-20 at the start of the fourth, it looked like recent Eastern League history was set to repeat itself.
But Lincoln wasn't ready to concede quite yet.
Hartzog capped a drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass to George McCorley, whose spectacular catch whittled the deficit down to just 35-26.
That led to the Edwards touchdown run, with Hartzog converting the two-point try to make it 35-34 -- and cause the entire grandstand on the Christian sideline to hold its collective breath.
But as the onside kick failed to hit its mark, the Patriots were able to exhale -- and to turn their sights to next Saturday's championship round, where former Coastal League foe Bishop's awaits them.
The Knights dispatched Valley Center by a 35-19 margin, giving them a 12-0 record identical to Christian's. When the two sides face off on December 3 at Southwestern College, one will taste defeat for the first time this season -- and the other will emerge as the Division III champion.
PREVIEW: It's an Eastern League grudge match in the Division III semifinals, as the #1 Christian Patriots and the #4 Lincoln Hornets meet again -- this time with a trip to the championship on the line.
Christian comes into the matchup with a pristine 11-0 record, including a 35-17 win over Lincoln in Week 8. The Hornets held a 17-14 lead early in the third quarter of that game, but the Patriots rallied behind a five-touchdown effort from senior running back Joey Morones.
It's just one of many big games for Morones, who has racked up over 1000 yards while averaging 7.1 per carry. The four-year varsity player has 24 touchdowns on the ground, three through the air, and even one on a pick-six.
He's joined in the backfield by junior quarterback Brad Jeremiah, who went for 208 yards and three scores in their 50-27 quarterfinal win over Hilltop. His favorite target is senior Benjamin Goodwin, who has 52 catches for 1016 yards and 12 trips to the end zone.
Sophomore defensive end Garrett Rosenthal and senior linebacker David Moreno spearhead the defense,with 76 and 74 tackles, respectively.
Lincoln treated its fans to a thriller in their quarterfinal contest against #5 Santa Fe Christian. Down seven on the final play of the game, junior quarterback Asante Hartzog connected with Daelyn Dunn on a 12-yard pass. And rather than play for overtime, they ran a direct snap to Micah Edwards -- who punched in the two-point conversion for a 29-28 victory.
Edwards has piled up over 3000 yards rushing in his Hornet career. In his last three games alone, he's accumulated over 500 total yards, to go along with 10 touchdowns.
Hartzog spreads the ball around to a wide cast of pass-catchers, with seven different Hornets going over 100 yards receiving eight of them catching at least one touchdown.
Junior linebacker Lamont Williams paces the Lincoln defense with 79 total tackles.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. this Friday at Granite Hills High School, and the Red Jacket crew will be live on the scene.
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.