The Templeton High football team hosted their first ever CIF-Southern Section playoff game Friday.
Tyler Gray made sure there would be another one next week.
Gray rushed 25 times for 198 yards, scored the game-winning touchdown on a 52-yard run, and the Eagles beat Centennial of Compton 27-21 to advance to the Northwest Division semifinals.
“It feels great, but, we’ve just got to keep playing tough and see how far we can get,” Gray said.
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Templeton (8-4) controlled the game on the ground, churning up positive yardage on each run. The Eagles finished with 396 rushing yards, keeping Centennial’s high-powered offense off the field.
The Apaches (6-6) opened the eyes of the Templeton coaching staff by scoring 67 points in their first-round victory over Oak Park.
But, it was Templeton’s defense that may do the eyebrow-raising during preparations for next week’s semifinal against South Torrance.
The Eagles held Centennial to just 124 yards of total offense, 60 of which came on a crazy touchdown play in the second quarter.
Centennial quarterback Tray Martin pitched the ball to a wide receiver, who threw it backward to Martin. After surveying the field, Martin elected to run himself rather than throw the ball, eluding seven would-be tacklers en route to a touchdown run.
The Apaches got their first score on a 90-yard kickoff return, and their other score came on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
But, other than those few big plays, Centennial could manage nothing on offense, finishing with just four first downs in the game.
“The defense played exceptionally well,” Templeton coach Dave Harper said. “We just kept fighting and getting after it the whole game.”
Martin was held to just 3-of-13 passing for 32 yards and the touchdown.
The Eagles got another huge contribution on the ground from Kory Dearie, who rushed for 130 yards on 17 carries.
Daulton Oropeza added 40 yards and a rushing touchdown for Templeton.
“We came into this game knowing that everybody had to make big plays,” Gray said. “We knew it couldn’t just be one person on one side of the ball. It had to be everybody all throughout.”
Despite the statistical difference, Templeton found itself down 14-7 late in the second quarter. On third-and-goal from the 1-yard line with just seven seconds remaining in the half and no timeouts, the Eagles gave the ball to Oropeza, who scored on a 1-yard run to cut the deficit to a point at halftime.
“We didn’t get down, but, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game,” Harper said. “We knew they had a lot of team speed and they would make some plays.”
With the score tied at 21 and under a minute to go, the Eagles’ coaching staff called a draw play to spring Gray loose on the winning run.
“We felt like they were going to bite on the pass, so we decided to go with the draw,” Gray said. “We had great blocking all the way down the field. So it wasn’t even really me.”
On the ensuing possession, Oropeza jumped in front of a Centennial receiver to pick off the Apaches’ last gasp.