Larry Pierce celebrated his 18th birthday on Wednesday night at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego by returning an interception 68 yards for a touchdown.
It wasn't just any interception return, either. It came with just 12 seconds left in the CIF San Diego Section Div. II title game and gave Pierce's team at Helix of La Mesa a 41-30 victory over Oceanside.
The battle between the top two teams in the Div. II state rankings lived up to advanced billing. Oceanside rallied from deficits of 28-9 and 35-23 and had the ball on the Helix 25-yard line with less than a minute to play and down by just five points
That's when Pierce stepped in front of a flat pass thrown by Oceanside quarterback Rick Coppack, juggled it momentarily, and then chugged down the sideline for the game-clinching score.
"My coach asked me to drop back and watch for the fullback and that's what I did," Pierce said. "This is the best birthday present I've ever had. I'm so excited I can't believe it."
Helix, which moved up to No. 1 in the Div. II state rankings this week, will be named the Div. II state team of the year by CalHiSports next week.
The Highlanders wrapped up a 12-1 season in which they won 61-28 in the playoffs over a Monte Vista of Spring Valley team that upset them in the regular season.
Helix needed a trick play to kickstart its offense after it only had 10 yards in the first quarter and trailed 9-0. On the play, center Brandon Halama faked snapping the ball to quarterback Alex Smith and then laid on the ball with his knees. As everyone else on the offense was executing a fake play (and was faking out everyone in the stadium), guard Zach Burgi picked up the ball and ran 58 yards for a touchdown. Burgi had already run about 35 yards before any Oceanside player realized he had the ball.
Top-notch junior Reggie Bush was completely neutralized by Oceanside's defense and finished with just 24 yards on 14 carries. He did score on a 5-yard run and his teammates picked up the slack. Fellow juniors Derrell Hutsona and Rajive Otah both ran well and combined for 135 yards on 15 carries. Hutsona also scored on an eight-yard run.
Oceanside actually outgained the Highlanders by 379 to 334. Coppack completed 15 of 28 passes for 236 yards and one TD. But he was sacked six times and threw two interceptions. Backup quarterback Randy Noa threw a 19-yard scoring pass to junior wideout Jose Perez in the fourth quarter to set up all the heroics in the final minute.
Santa Fe Christian No. 1 in Div. V
Sorry, Middletown, but No. 2 will have to do in next week's final Div. V state rankings.
Top-ranked Sante Fe Christian of Solana Beach won the San Diego Section Div. IV title on Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium with a wild 42-36 win over Christian of El Cajon.
The undefeated Eagles answered every challenge by Christian with a touchdown of their own and held on with an on-side kick try by Christian was touched before the ball went 10 yards.
Chase McBride rushed for 123 yards on 14 carries and scored one touchdown for Santa Fe Christian. Joel Allen completed 21-33 for 272 yards and four touchdowns to lead Christian.
Former NFL quarterback Brian Sipe is the head coach at Santa Fe Christian. One of the assistant coaches for Christian is former NFL quarterback Jay Schroeder.
Division I: Vista 10, Rancho Bernardo 7
The Panthers won their fourth section title in six years by holding off a team they beat 52-0 in the regular season. Vista didn't secure the win until 34 seconds were left when Leon Hall intercepted a pass in the end zone. The Panthers scored their only touchdown on their second play when Salo Faraimo ran for a 58-yard score.