There was only one pass completed in the first half of Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division semifinal between South Torrance and Templeton.
But when Spartans quarterback Kevin McMahon found tight end Keith Mitsuuchi for a 25-yard touchdown to give South Torrance a 14-0 lead, the Eagles’ marvelous season of firsts effectively ended as the Spartans knocked Templeton’s defense off balance in a 35-7 win.
“That was a big game-changer when they started passing on us,” linebacker Daulton Oropeza said. “They found our weakness.”
Forced into comeback mode, the Eagles, traditionally a run-oriented team, opened up the playbook.
On the first play of the second half, Templeton quarterback Simon Roth was intercepted, and two plays later came the dagger.
McMahon found Jesurun Wright with a perfectly thrown ball, just past the arms of a diving Templeton defender for a 27-yard touchdown and a commanding 28-0 lead.
Senior star Tyler Gray, a highly sought after Division I recruit at linebacker, scored Templeton’s lone touchdown on a 79-yard run. He finished with 148 yards on 10 carries in his final high school game.
“Just a phenomenal player,” Eagles coach Dave Harper said of Gray. “Wherever he’s at (in college) we’re going to go and watch some of his football games. He’s got a great desire, and we’re excited about his future.”
Despite the big passing successes, on the ground is where the Spartans truly won the game.
Using a size advantage on the offensive line, South Torrance wracked up 302 rushing yards, led by 164 yards and two scores from Dylan Redondo.
“They beat us up front and that was basically the difference,” Harper said.
The loss concludes arguably Templeton’s best season, and assuredly its best since joining the Southern Section in 2006.
The Eagles finished in a second place tie in the Los Padres League, handing league champion Lompoc its only LPL loss.
Ironically, by beating Templeton, South Torrance advances to face the Braves in next week’s Northwest Division championship game.
Templeton and Lompoc led an LPL charge through the divisional playoffs with the Eagles not only winning their first Southern Section playoff game 43-33 over No. 3 seed Bishop Montgomery, but also winning their first Southern Section home playoff game a week later, 27-21 over Centennial of Compton.
Oropeza, who intercepted a pass on the final play of the win over Centennial, said his memory of Templeton’s season will expand beyond just its postseason exploits.
“Everything,” Oropeza said. “I’m going to remember everything. Everything has been great. It’s been a hell of a year.”
Still, while Harper said he is looking forward to next season and trying to get bigger, he’ll always remember this year’s team, which put Templeton on the Southern Section map.
“We had a phenomenal season,” Harper said. “We overcame some adversity and just really enjoyed the kids.”