Nick Montana (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
The Skyline Spartans were the hosts, but they didn't have to be so magnanimous. They spotted Oaks Christian two quick scores, and the Lions ultimately pulled out a 28-25 slugfest over the two-time state champion Spartans in front of a packed house of 5,000 at Spartan Stadium, as well as an ESPNU national audience.
The game was billed as a bit of a grudge match, as the Spartans' quarterback - Jake Heaps - is heading out of state to play his college football at BYU, while Oaks Christian's QB - Nick Montana - will be attending Washington, less than an hour from Skyline High School. Montana is the son of NFL Hall-of-Famer Joe Montana.
Oaks Christian's left tackle, Erik Kohler, will be joining Montana at Washington, while the Lions' outstanding linebackers, Zac Stout and Alani Fua, are set to play with Heaps at BYU. As you can tell, it was a game with many plot lines, but both teams also came into the game with major winning streaks on the line.
Yet as poorly as the Spartans started - they were down 14-0 with nearly 7 minutes left in the first quarter - Heaps had his team charging. They were at the Lions' 30-yard line with more than a minute left, when Max Napolitano picked Heaps off to seal the win.
"Before the game, I was hoping it would come down to me and Kasen (Williams) in the end zone and I knocked it away," a happy Napolitano said. "But this was close enough."
"I got hit," Heaps said after the game, also confirming rumors that he had contracted the flu earlier in the day and was not feeling very well at all the whole game, despite unofficially throwing 275 yards on 16-31 passing, and one score. But he also threw three interceptions. "It just shows the resilience of our team. We're not a team that's going to give up. We're a team that's not going to back down. Unfortunately I made a mistake at the end, and it was costly."
With the victory, the Lions extended their own streak to 24 in a row, and at the same time they snapped the Spartans' 30-game streak. "They were a really good team," Williams said. "We took 'em to the very end. I'm pretty sure we have their respect."
"This was a very intense game," said Lions running back Malcolm Jones. Jones unofficially finished with 118 yards on 18 carries, the biggest one of the night coming from 48 yards out for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to push Oaks Christian's lead to 28-17. "It was one of the hardest victories in Oaks Christian history. It was a big win for us."
"We played extremely, extremely hard, but we just made too many mistakes today." Skyline Head Coach Mat Taylor said after the game. "Oaks Christian is a fine football team and I'm not taking anything away from them, but I feel strong about our kids and what we were doing. It was about execution today."
It wasn't until the second quarter, but when the Spartans got on track, they did it in a hurry. And they did it through one of their not-so-secret weapons; junior receiver Kasen Williams. Williams took a simple slant and was able to zig-zag his way to the 20-yard line, when he was stripped of the ball from behind. But Williams was not to be denied. As the ball bounded forward toward the end zone, the 6-foot-2, 197-pounder raced after it and pounced on the football, getting credit for a touchdown.
One series later, Heaps and Williams connected again, this time on a 37-yard throw over the top of the Lions' secondary. All of a sudden the game was tied at 14 with 7:20 left in the half.
"I think we got caught up in all the hype," Williams said afterward. "We didn't come out and perform the way we were supposed to perform. I told my team that I wasn't going to quit. And we didn't quit until the very end. And that's Spartan football."
But Oaks Christian, showing the heart of a champion, bounced right back after a Spartan field goal put them ahead three. Nick Montana hit a big strike to junior receiver Blair Holliday for 49 yards, and then backed that up with a 25-yard crossing route to big Alani Fua, and the BYU-bound tight end took it the distance - his second touchdown of the game - to give the Lions the lead going into the half. Overall, Montana unofficially was 22-34 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions - both by Skyline DB Michael Ford.
Once the two teams came out for the second half, it appeared as if the Spartans had solved the puzzle that was Oaks Christian's offense. "They played a lot more cover-2 than I thought they would, and we adjusted and attacked the middle," Taylor said. "But in that first quarter, we could not block (Oaks Christian DT) Cassius Marsh. But we felt that this game was going to be decided in the fourth quarter, because so many of their guys go both ways. And it almost worked out like that. The defense was phenomenal."
"It was an exciting game, I've never been in a game like that," Marsh said afterward. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound OL/DL was hurt three times during the game, but came back each time. "Skyline was resilient"
Fumbles and interceptions plagued the Spartans' offense all game long, but they kept plugging away. Skyline DB Miles Edwards was able to stop Montana on a fourth-and-one, giving the ball back to the Spartans - but Stout knocked the ball out of Ford's hands on a 4th-and-9 to give the ball back to the Lions.
Down 11, Skyline finally got back on the scoreboard with 3:31 left - and it was all on their running back, Nick Washburn. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior ran the ball four straight times after a Lions' pass interference call put the ball on their 22-yard line. The fourth run, a two-yarder, capped the scoring, and the Spartans were able to cut the margin to three after a successful two-point conversion - Heaps to Ford.
The Lions were not able to maintain possession, and settled for a punt with 2:09 left in the game. Passes from Heaps to Williams and Connor Brandt moved the ball to the Lions' 30, where Napolitano picked Heaps off the secure the win for OC.
"I thought we were going to get 'em," Skyline lineman Jase Butorac said. "I really did. We fight through adversity all the time. And it ended up being a great game."
"These seniors, there was a lot of pressure on them to continue the streak," Taylor said.
"And when it comes down to it, we're here to get to the playoffs and keep winning. So we'll learn from this."
So while the Lions go back home victorious, the Spartans are also taking something away from the game. Up next is a date with Newport - and a chance to start a new winning streak.
"I've never been in this position before," Williams said. "I'm just trying to play through it and get to the next weekend. We have to take it out on the next team. We don't want to feel this anger ever again. So we'll go back to the drawing board and we're going to figure things out.
"We still have that state championship to go to."