Injuries forced LA Valley (5-4, 3-2) to turn to its third-string quarterback and their third-string running back against LA Southwest (3-6, 2-3), but Croson and Thomas came through in a big way for the Monarchs. Valley trailed, 25-13, entering the final quarter and 32-20 with under twelve minutes to go before scoring the game's final 14 points to come away with the win.
Croson, who played quarterback at Birmingham HS when his father, Ed, was head coach, started this season as a wide receiver. And Thomas, who played at nearby Panorama HS, was stuck behind Ra'Shon Harper and Michael Johnson on the depth chart. But a series of injuries sent Croson back behind center, and an ankle sprain kept Harper out of action Saturday. Johnson started and tried to play through an injury of his own, but managed just 13 yards on 9 carries before giving way to Thomas.
For much of the night, however, the star of the show was Graham, a 156-pound freshman speedster from City Section power Carson HS. Graham entered the game leading the state in all-purpose yards with about 208 per game and had scored 11 touchdowns. He would add to his totals with 256 all-purpose yards, four touchdowns and a two-point conversion against Valley.
But Croson had the final say, throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jon Hilliger with 3:23 left to give the Monarchs the win. That was the third Croson-to-Hilliger touchdown pass of the quarter; the two hooked up on an 8-yard scoring pass with 14:07 left as well as a 33-yard strike with 11:24 left, each of which brought Valley within five points of the lead.
The first half was evenly-played, with the only difference on the scoreboard a result of an errant snap on Valley's second extra point. Graham gave Southwest a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run less than five minutes into the game, while Thomas answered with a 3-yard scoring run later in the quarter to tie it 7-7. Graham scored his second touchdown of the night on a 26-yard pass from Shashaun Alexander early in the second quarter. Then Croson scored on a 1-yard sneak with 6:10 left, though the botched extra point kept Southwest ahead, 14-13.
Southwest seemed to take control in the second half, however, building a 25-13 lead. A 40-yard kickoff return by Tevin Carter followed by a plodding 13-play drive that chewed up 7:40 off the clock ended with Graham scoring on a 1-yard run. Then he scored on the two-point conversion try to make it a two-possession game at 22-13. And after Cedric Stewart recovered a Valley fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Alfred Ntiamoah booted a 29-yard field goal to make it 25-13 after three quarters.
Croson's first touchdown pass to Hilliger in the first minute of the fourth quarter cut the margin to five points, but Southwest answered quickly after another big kickoff return by Carter which was enhanced by a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit on the play. Graham scored his fourth touchdown of the night four plays later, an 11-yard run to make it 32-20 with 12:42 left.
That proved to be enough time, however, for Croson, Hilliger and company to rally. The first score came with 11:24 left, making it 32-27. Then each team punted the ball away twice, with Valley getting a huge break when that second Southwest punt went straight up into the air and bounced backwards for a net of minus-5 yards. That gave Valley the ball at the 40, and two plays later Croson hit Hilliger to give Valley its first and only lead of the night.
Southwest still had a chance to rally, and drove across midfield into Valley territory. But then Alexander's last pass of the night was intercepted by Alex Flandez, clinching a rather unlikely win for the Monarchs.
Croson finished 8 for 15 passing for 128 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception. He also scored a touchdown on the quarterback sneak in the first half. Thomas rushed for a game-high 191 yards on 32 carries and also had a touchdown. Hilliger led all receivers with 5 catches for 92 yards and three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter.
For Southwest, Graham rushed for 142 yards on 25 carries and had 3 catches for 33 yards, scoring all four Cougar touchdowns, and added the two-point conversion for a total of 26 points. Alexander completed 13 of 28 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown.
L.A. Valley Monarchs 35
L.A. Southwest Cougars 32
Saturday, November 5, 2011 - 6 pm - Monarch Stadium, Valley Glen
American Division - Pacific Conference
S - Graham 2 yd run (Ntiamoah kick) 10:56 (0-7)
V - Thomas 3 yd run (Meza kick) 5:56 (7-7)
S - Graham 26 yd pass from Alexander (Ntiamoah kick) 12:40 (7-14)
V - Croson 1 yd run (kick failed - bad snap) 6:10 (13-14)
S - Graham 1 yd run (Graham run) 7:20 (13-22)
S - FG Ntiamoah 29 yds 4:35 (13-25)
4th Quarter: V - Hilliger 8 yd pass from Croson (Meza kick) 14:07 (20-25)
S - Graham 11 yd run (Ntiamoah kick) 12:42 (20-32)
V - Hilliger 33 yd pass from Croson (Meza kick) 11:24 (27-32)
V - Hilliger 41 yd pass from Croson (Croson run) 3:23 (35-32)
First Downs: LA Valley 23 (15 rush, 6 pass, 2 penalty), LA Southwest 18 (9 rush, 7 pass, 2 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: LA Valley 47-216, LA Southwest 41-207
Passing Yds: LA Valley 128, LA Southwest 164
Comp-Att-Int: LA Valley 8-15-1, LA Southwest 13-30-2
Return Yds: LA Valley 90, LA Southwest 163
Sacks-Yds: LA Valley 1-10, LA Southwest 0-0
Fumbles-Lost: LA Valley 2-1, LA Southwest 0-0
Penalties-Yds: LA Valley 6-57, LA Southwest 15-135
Time of Possession: LA Valley 28:05, LA Southwest 31:55
Rushing: V 25-Thomas 32-191, 22-Johnson 9-13, 13-Bell 1-6, 8-Croson 3-5, 44-Hungerford 1-2, team 1-(-1); S 28-Graham 25-142, 8-Alexander 12-48, 4-Davis 3-10, 26-Wimbish 1-7
Passing: V 8-Croson 8-15-1-128, 3 TDs; S 8-Alexander 13-28-2-164, 1 TD; team 0-2-0-0
Receiving: V 82-Hilliger 5-92, 12-Walker 3-36; S 15-Simmons 4-43, 28-Graham 3-33, 21-Proby 3-28, 2-Reed 2-51, 88-Patterson 1-9
Interceptions-Ret Yds: V 36-Fiandez 1-9, 7-Booker 1-0; S 23-Stanley 1-0
Fum Rec-Ret Yds: V none; S 97-Stewart 1-0
Sacks-Yds: V 23-Watters 1-10; S none
Punters: V 28-Meza 5-29.8 avg; S 16-Rodriguez 6-31.3 avg
Kick Returns: V 7-Booker 3-72, 33-Ballard 1-9; S 13-Carter 2-82, 28-Graham 4-76
Punt Returns: V none; S 28-Graham 1-5
Missed FG: none
Notes: LA Valley improves to 6-3 overall, 3-2 in conference; LA Southwest falls to 3-6, 2-3. Southwest's FG came after Stewart's fumble recovery on a missed handoff. Valley's game-winning TD came after a minus-5 yard punt. Croson and Thomas were both recently third-string at their positions but injuries gave them the chance tonight. Graham leads the state in all-purpose yards, averaging about 213 yds per game.