As the clock wound down in the first half of San Luis Obispo’s CIF-Central Section Division 3 playoff game against South of Bakersfield, quarterback Emilio Corona told head coach Pat Johnston that he would play defense if needed.
South was in the red zone and threatening to score with under a minute left in the half. Johnston didn’t call on Corona’s services then, but with South marching down the field in the fourth quarter and just two minutes remaining, he did.
On fourth down, the Rebels threw to the back of the end zone where Corona knocked the ball down for a turnover on downs. The Tigers then ran out the clock to secure their first playoff win since 2011 — a 24-16 victory.
“I’m thrilled for our kids,” said Johnston, who also earned his first playoff victory as head coach. “It was a tight game, and we’ve been in some tight games this year. I think that being in tight games this year and coming out with victories prepared them for a situation like this.
“It’s a real testament to how they’ve grown. They have confidence in their ability — their ability is to make plays when it matters.”
Corona’s big night
Corona rushed eight times for 81 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to 169 yards passing. He didn’t call his own number as many times as other games this season, but his effectiveness wasn’t limited by number of touches — or which side of the ball he was playing on.
“He’s one of the best football players on the field for either team at any given moment,” Johnston said. “In a critical situation like (the end of the game), you need your best players on the field.”
Sure enough, Corona was around the ball and able to break up the pass in the end zone.
Bend don’t break
The Tigers overcame two turnovers — a fumble and a dropped pass that resulted in an interception — on their first two drives, which set the Rebels up with good field position.
With a 14-0 lead, San Luis Obispo limited South to a field goal to end the first half.
Johnston said with a team like South, “you can only hope to contain those guys.”
Contain is exactly what the Tigers did, forcing two field goals — one of which was missed — and coming up with several fourth-down stops. The Rebels broke out in the second half, scoring a pair of touchdowns on long runs.
“It’s that ‘bend don’t break,’” Johnston said. “You don’t want to resort to that philosophy of defense, but when you’re playing a team with those kind of athletes, you need to take your victories where you can get them.”
Wyatt Engdahl and Carson Silacci each had sacks, and John Krill hit a 35-yard field goal for the Tigers.
San Luis Obispo (8-3) will face the undefeated No. 1-seeded San Joaquin Memorial (10-0) of Fresno, which had a bye this week.
Other SLO County CIF-CS playoff scores
Arroyo Grande 59, Sanger 10
Frontier 29, Nipomo 22
Central Coast playoff scores
Bullard 45, St. Joseph 28
Stockdale 45, Pioneer Valley 24
Mt. Whitney 77, Santa Maria 0
Northview 43, Santa Ynez 7
Capistrano Valley 24, Lompoc 7