Off To The Races — Sylmar running back Marcus Gandy looks for space to operate against the Hamilton High defense.

 

Hamilton High of Los Angeles showed up for its City Section Division II football final against Sylmar with plenty of swagger. So confident were the Yankees coaches of winning the game, a couple of them could be seen on the sidelines wearing long-sleeved shirts that said on the back “Going Down For Real….Division II City Champs!”

Unfortunately for Sylmar, Hamilton convincingly back up its bravado with a 58-30 victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday, Dec. 6.

 A high-scoring contest had been expected between the Yankees (11-3), the division’s top seed, and the Spartans (11-3), seeded third. The main difference: the amount of big plays Hamilton produced.

Jericho Flowers got it started on the opening kickoff by taking the ball from Russell Shaw as the latter was being tackled at the 44, and racing the remaining 56 yards past an unsuspecting group of Spartans for a touchdown. Flowers also caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Shaw on a halfback option play, and ended the first half by returning a missed field goal 90 yards for his third score.

It was Shaw’s show in the second half. He scored four times for the Yankees on three touchdown receptions of 54, 15 and 55 yards from quarterback Armani Rogers, and also included a 90-yard interception return.

Sylmar quarterback Clarence Williams Jr. did what he could to keep the Spartans close, completing 20-of-42 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. But he was sacked once, intercepted three times, lost a fumble, and was never able to put the Spartans ahead. The closest Sylmar got to Hamilton was 10-9 in the second quarter. 

“I won’t say they were better; I will say the ball bounced their way today,” Sylmar Coach John Brazil said. “You had three key plays; two plays off their special teams, and the (halfback option) pass. If you take away those, we’ve got an even ballgame.”

It was still a one-touchdown deficit for the Spartans when Brazil made a fateful decision. Sylmar had the ball on the Yankees’ 27-yard line with four seconds left in the first half. The Spartans attempted a 44-yard field goal, but the kick was short. Flowers gathered in the ball at the 10, and proceeded to navigate a mind-bending, soul-crushing 90-yard return for a touchdown that put Yankees up 23-9. 

“We still felt [good] at halftime, we were only down two touchdowns,” Brazil said. “The game wasn’t that far away from us. But in this game we wasted possessions. And in this kind of game you can’t do that.”

Not that Sylmar ever quit. An 18-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Daniel Mendoza pulled the Spartans to within 37-23 with 7:16 left in the fourth quarter. Sixty-six seconds later, the Sylmar defense came up with a big play of it’s own as Andrew Simpson blocked a Hamilton punt and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown, narrowing the gap further at 37-30.

But that was Sylmar’s last burst. Hamilton scored 21 points on a worn down Spartans defense in the final 6:09, two of them coming after Williams threw interceptions. 

“We had our chances. It was 37-30; but from there it got away from us,” Brazil said.

It was a second City title for Hamilton in the past six years. In 2009, the Yankees beat El Camino Real High for the Division II championship.

Sylmar last won at City title in 1994, when it beat Crenshaw High of Los Angeles. 

A disconsolate Williams managed some perspective through his disappointment.

“This could be a good learning experience for all of us. It’s not a good feeling to lose in a championship after you’ve put in a lot of hard work in the offseason and mid-season. We got here; next year we have to finish it off,” Williams said.

“We know what we’ve got to do to get here. We’ve got to put in that ‘extra,’ so we can go out like Hamilton did and not shaking our heads, crying because we lost.”

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