The arcane perception that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” in sports doesn’t feel old-fashioned if it happens to be true. And you can count the Chatsworth High football team among the believers.
The Chancellors were down by 20 points — first, 20-0 and then 26-6 — in their game against Poly High on Sept. 6. Sure it was still the first half; but the Chancellors, playing under a new coach George Cardona and considered just a mid-level City Section Division II team, weren’t expected to come back. If they had made the final score close, that in itself could be considered a victory because it would show they hadn’t just marked time until the clock mercifully ran out.
Instead, Chatsworth did come back — all the way back — to pull off a stunning 28-26 victory that should do more than simply even their 2019 season record at 1-1. It now makes the Chancellors a team to watch, to see if that kind of comeback becomes a signature signpost for how the season turns out; that if the team, instead of flattening out and acting demoralized for weeks, turns into a discourage-proof opponent that feels — make that knows — it is never out of a game.
“Our team is capable of anything,” said wide receiver Javier Torres. “Now we have reason to believe.”
Torres, 16, a senior, played a pivotal role in the victory. He caught the team’s first touchdown pass toward the end of the first quarter, and also caught the tying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter — a 52-yarder in which Torres broke out of a tackle on the Parrots’ 35-yard line and outraced the rest of the Poly defense to the end zone.
“Probably the first one (was the more important score),” Torres said. “It started everything for us. We knew then there was plenty of time.”
But he wasn’t the only big contributor in the game. Sophomore quarterback Chris Ochoa, making his first varsity start, passed for three touchdowns and ran for another. He also ran in the two-point conversion after Torres’ second touchdown that evened the score, 26-26, with 3:26 to play.
But his most important job, Ochoa said, was keeping the team focused on playing.
Even when trailing by 20,“we remained calm because we knew there was a lot of time left,” said Ochoa, 16. “I was trying to make sure no one was giving up on their job.”
Another, critical, score for Chatsworth was by receiver Jacob Washington, who caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Ochoa with 1.2 seconds left in the first half.
“It was the first time we had run that play in a game, and it worked perfectly, just like in practice,” Washington said. “[Ochoa] made a perfect throw, I just had to see it into my hands and catch the ball.
“When they went up 20-0, it was a shocker for us — we went into that game kinda bigheaded. But after the first touchdown we gained some confidence. And the one before halftime, that let us know we were still in the game.”
The last big play for Chatsworth came with 1:13 left in the game. Linebacker Adryan Yera would tackle Poly quarterback Abel Valenzuela in the Parrots’ end zone for a safety, giving the Chancellors what turned out to be the game-deciding points.
“I wasn’t too sure I had him, but I was confident in the tackle,” said Yera, 16, a junior. “It was a quarterback keeper; he kept the ball and ran to my side.”
The Chatsworth sideline erupted in joy, no one more than Cardona. He is a veteran coach around the Valley, having previously worked at Cleveland High as well as Chatsworth, but he had retired. Or so he thought. Last December, then Head Coach Rick Hayashida asked him to serve as the Chancellors’ offensive coordinator this season. Being good friends with Hayashida, Cardona agreed.
But as spring practice was starting, Hayashida began to have health issues, and decided to step down. Cardona, somewhat reluctantly, was elevated to head coach. His son, John Cardona, is part of the coaching staff.
When asked about his football philosophies, Cardona said he had a basic one.
“I hope to establish credibility in the kids, to stand up for wrongdoings and good doings,” the coach said. “To show you can play through adversity, no matter what, no matter how the chips are stacked against you. Always play through the adversity, and just play the game.”
The players say that, offensively, Cardona has made some other changes. Instead of being primarily a running team, Chatsworth is striving for more of a 50-50 balance in running and passing. Offensive lineman Cameron Omega also notes, “last year we were focused on hitting one of our top receivers or relying on the top running back (to make plays). This year we’re depending more on the O-line to give the quarterbacks more time. This time we [are deeper] at running back, receiver, tight end. Everyone plays a big part in the game.”
Chatsworth stumbled in its first outing, losing to Grant. But now they have this result on their 2019 resumé — a glittering reminder that no other game situation should feel dire or out of reach, starting with the North Hollywood High contest on Friday.
“We still have to stay focused, because anything can happen in a game,” Yera said. “We have to keep our heads on straight…and we can do big things.”