Contrary to popular belief, Cinderellas don’t always get fairy-tale endings.
And while Monroe High does have plenty to reflect on when it looks back on the 2014 season, the clock did strike 12 on its football fates — with no prince coming to the rescue.
Instead the Vikings were turned away from the ultimate prize it sought, the City Section Division III championship. It is now the property of Los Angeles High after its convincing 28-14 victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Dec. 6.
The Romans (12-2), the division’s top seed, wound up dominating on the scoreboard by frustrating the Vikings’ offense. Monroe (10-4), the third seed, found it’s explosive passing game neutered much of the day by Los Angeles’ active defensive line and linebackers who constantly clogged the sight lines of 5-feet 9-inch quarterback Luis Dorame.
Dorame, who had been averaging 267.8 yards passing per game, was held to 160 yards on 18-of-39 passing. He threw for one touchdown, and was intercepted once. And he got little help from the running game; Monroe collectively wound up with a minus-19 yards in 15 rushing attempts.
“[Los Angeles] did a good job of getting pressure on us and getting their hands up,” Monroe Coach Don Senegal said afterward. “They played us the best this year of a team that could get their hands up, knowing the limitation of our quarterback, heightwise.”
“They brought pressure and we weren’t picking up the pressure — at least in the first half,” Dorame added. “We weren’t playing the game we should have been playing.”
The Vikings’ defense did all it could to keep Monroe’s title hopes alive. It forced three fumbles, had an interception, blocked two punts and sacked Romans quarterback Kaymen Cureton four times. But Cureton despite being tagged for a minus-48 yards rushing, did complete 19-of-33 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
Los Angeles Eric Scott acknowledged the performance of the Monroe defense but said his team had to shed itself of its early anxiety.
“You’ve got to realize it’s a championship game and nerves are uneasy,” Scott said. “There are ups and downs. My quarterback is just a sophomore and he had his times (of mistakes)… But I also thought our defense played big today.”
Most important for the Romans — they would never trail in the game.
Los Angeles opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 1-yard run by fullback Andrus Martin. It added a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Monroe’s Walter Rosales got the first of his two fumble recoveries, falling on a bad snap at the Romans’ 26-yard line in the second quarter. Dorame drove the Vikings to the 1-yard line, from which he subsequently scored. With the extra point, the Vikings trailed 8-7 with 7:28 left in the first half.
But that was more than enough time for the Romans to expand their lead. First, Cureton connected with Branden Bacon on a 50-yard touchdown pass — Los Angeles adding another two-point conversion — and, with less than 30 seconds left in the half Cureton threw a second touchdown pass to Richard Smith from four yards out. Although the conversion attempt failed, Los Angeles was cruising, 22-7.
Monroe used it’s opening drive in the third quarter to cut into the Romans’ lead, as Dorame hooked up with A.J. Senegal on a 45-yard touchdown pass at the 11:16 mark. And arguably the biggest play of the game happened nearly seven minutes later.
Los Angeles had the ball on Monroe’s 18-yard line when the Vikings’ defense sacked Cureton and force him to fumble at the 25. Rosales picked the loose ball and raced down the sidelines apparently on his way to a touchdown with three Vikings trailing happily behind him.
The officials, however, flagged Monroe for an illegal block in the back far away from the play. It brought the ball back to the Los Angeles 40-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
The Vikings, understandably, were incredulous.
“Sometimes you should keep the flag in your pocket in a game of this magnitude,” Senegal said. “But it didn’t work out that way.”
“I thought I had a touchdown,” Rosales said. “I just scooped the ball up and ran. I was looking at the (video) scoreboard to see if anyone was behind me. (The call) was hard, but I told my teammates to get them the next play.”
But the Vikings couldn’t. Monroe reached the Romans’ 2-yard line but had to give the ball back on downs. Los Angeles responded — like a champion — by driving 98 yards in 14 plays. Smith ran the final 23 yards for the clinching touchdown with 4:03 left in the game.
It was the Romans first City football championship since 1965.
Monroe was playing in its first City title game since 1971. It’s still looking for its first championship. But, as Senegal noted afterward, there was no way the 2014 could be viewed as a downer; not the team’s first winning season since 2007.
“What a ride,” the coach said. “Nothing to disappointed about. What a great ride.”