The game turned on three big plays, all in the second half. Kris Johnson returned a quick-kick punt 89 yards to set up one touchdown for Santa Monica (8-2, 6-0), Alfonso Medina threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Taylor for another, and Clinton Perry returned an interception to the West LA 3 to set up the third and final Corsair touchdown of the second half.
With both teams entering with identical 7-2 overall records and 5-0 conference marks, the championship was on the line before a large and boisterous crowd, even on a cloudy day that threatened rain. And with neither team having won a conference championship in over a decade, both teams had plenty of motivation to take advantage of this opportunity.
West LA (7-3, 5-1) jumped out to a 6-0 lead on its first drive of the day on a 10-yard touchdown pass from LeAndre Thompson to Steven Cross midway through the first quarter. But the extra point was wide, keeping it 6-0, and Myles Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards for the Corsairs. That set up Santa Monica's first touchdown of the day, an 18-yard run by Alonzo Frederick, and Trevor Dionne's successful extra point kick gave the Corsairs a 7-6 lead.
West LA got a break when a Medina pass bounced off the hands of a receiver and Travis Cabral made a diving catch for an interception at the Corsair 41. On the next play, Dominic Cooper broke free for a 41-yard touchdown run to put West LA back on top, 12-7, with 44.9 seconds left in the first quarter. Then Thompson ran the ball in for a two-point conversion to make it 14-7.
Santa Monica got a field goal from Dionne to cut the deficit to four points midway through the second quarter, but West LA pushed the margin to 21-10 when Thompson threw a pass into the end zone that Donald Drisdom snatched away from defensive back Perry for a touchdown with 2:51 left in the half.
Santa Monica got another field goal from Dionne midway through the third quarter to make it 21-13, but West LA threatened to extend its lead on its next possession, driving to the Corsair 26. On 4th and 6, the Wildcats lined up as if to try for the first down, but instead had Thompson quick-kick the ball, hoping to pin Santa Monica deep in its territory.
Instead, the move backfired, as Corsair defensive back Kris Johnson caught the ball at his own 7 and headed back towards the Wildcats. By the time he was finally corralled, he'd reached the West LA 4 yard-line after an 89-yard punt return. Two plays later, Medina scored on a 1-yard sneak to make it 21-19 with 5:02 left in the quarter. The Corsairs then tried to tie the score with a two-point conversion, but Myles Johnson was stopped well short of the goal line to allow West LA to stay in the lead.
That lead lasted less than five more minutes, however. The Wildcats again moved the ball, driving to the Corsair 28, but the drive stalled at that point and West LA punted - a real punt this time - with the ball bouncing just across the goal line for a touchback. Two Wildcats nearly combined to deaden the ball at the 1, but the officials ruled they were unsuccessful in their endeavor.
And two plays later, Santa Monica had the lead. After a no-gain on a first down run, Medina found Taylor behind the defense on second down and threw him what became an 80-yard touchdown pass. The Corsairs again elected to try a two-point conversion, and were again unsuccessful as Medina's pass towards tight end Aaron Boesch fell incomplete, but Santa Monica had the lead at 25-21 entering the fourth quarter.
It was still 25-21 midway through the fourth quarter when West LA, starting from its own 20 after a punt, attempted a pass. But Thompson was hit as he threw by Santa Monica's Karl Buchanan, and his throw fluttered downfield into the hands of Perry, who not only made the interception but returned it to the Wildcat 3 yard-line. On the next play, Daniel Pipkin scored on a run to make it 32-21 with 7:58 left.
West LA got the ball back twice more after that, but failed to score either time. The first drive reached the Corsair 19, but ended with Brian Hawthorne's second interception of the day inside the 5 yard-line. After a Santa Monica punt, West LA got the ball back again with 3:01 left and again drove deep into Corsair territory, reaching the 20. But a sack by David Mayo pushed the Wildcats back to the 28, and on 4th and 12 Thompson's final pass of the day fell incomplete, and the Corsairs had not just the victory but the conference championship.
For Santa Monica, Medina completed 16 of 28 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown with 1 interception. Nine different receivers caught passes, led by Ralph Gordon, who had 4 catches for 40 yards, and Taylor, who had 91 yards on two catches. The defense was led by Hawthorne, who had two interceptions, both deep in Corsair territory; his first pick was in the end zone at the end of the first half. Perry's interception and return, started with the big rush by Buchanan, was a key play as well. And of course Kris Johnson's game-changing 89-yard quick-kick punt return was a huge factor.
For West LA, Thompson completed 19 of 36 passes for 231 yards and 2 touchdowns, but had 3 interceptions. He also rushed for 57 yards on 10 carries. Cooper led all rushers with 170 yards on 20 carries, including the 41-yard touchdown run. Cross had 81 yards rushing on 17 carries and 2 catches for 18 yards and a score. Overall, West LA amassed 539 yards of total offense on the day.
The win means that Santa Monica is not only conference champion but will host the American Championship Bowl next week at 1 pm vs. East LA.
Santa Monica Corsairs 32
West L.A. Wildcats 21
Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 1 pm - Corsair Field, Santa Monica
American Division - Pacific Conference
W - Cross 10 yd pass from Thompson (kick wide right) 8:25 (0-6)
SM - Frederick 18 yd run (Dionne kick) 7:26 (7-6)
W - Cooper 41 yd run (Thompson run) 0:44.9 (7-14)
SM - FG Dionne 26 yds 6:04 (10-14)
W - Drisdom 26 yd pass from Thompson (Gunn kick) 2:51 (10-21)
SM - FG Dionne 33 yds 9:16 (13-21)
SM - Medina 1 yd run (run failed) 5:02 (19-21)
SM - Taylor 80 yd pass from Medina (pass failed) 0:42.6 (25-21)
SM - Pipkin 3 yd run (Dionne kick) 7:58 (32-21)
First Downs: Santa Monica 14 (3 rush, 9 pass, 2 penalty), West LA 22 (13 rush, 8 pass, 1 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: Santa Monica 33-89, West LA 47-308
Passing Yds: Santa Monica 226, West LA 231
Comp-Att-Int: Santa Monica 16-29-1, West LA 19-36-3
Return Yds: Santa Monica 261, West LA 88
Sacks-Yds: Santa Monica 2-20, West LA 1-7
Fumbles-Lost: Santa Monica 0-0, West LA 0-0
Penalties-Yds: Santa Monica 9-77, West LA 10-85
Time of Possession: Santa Monica 30:01, West LA 29:59
Rushing: SM 5-Frederick 8-35, 21-M.Johnson 7-25, 20-Pipkin 10-25, 9-A.Jones 2-3, 12-Medina 4-3, team 2-(-2); W 3-Dom.Cooper 20-170, 33-Cross 17-81, 12-Thompson 10-57
Passing: SM 12-Medina 16-28-1-226, 1 TD; 10-Gordon 0-1-0-0; W 12-Thompson 19-36-3-231, 2 TDs
Receiving: SM 10-Gordon 4-40, 7-Comass 3-39, 2-Taylor 2-91, 21-M.Johnson 2-6, 1-Murray 1-19, 89-Boesch 1-14, 20-Pipkin 1-10, 81-Muhammad 1-7, 84-Scorza 1-(-1); W 7-Idris 7-53, 4-Drisdom 4-125, 33-Cross 2-18, 3-Dom.Cooper 2-8, 1-Davis 2-1, 19-Bailey 1-25, 9-E.Jones 1-2
Interceptions-Ret Yds: SM 18-Hawthorne 2-18, 3-C.Perry 1-44; W 6-Cabral 1-0
Fum Rec-Ret Yds: none
Sacks-Yds: SM 91-Haywood 1-12, 34-Mayo 1-8; W 45-Ayers 1-7
Punters: SM 27-Esquiviel 8-39.3 avg; W 3-Dom.Cooper 7-39.4 avg
Kick Returns: SM 10-Gordon 2-30, 21-M.Johnson 1-49, 31-Ross 1-12; W 6-Cabral 3-53, 7-Idris 2-34
Punt Returns: SM 10-Gordon 2-15, 25-K.Johnson 1-89, 7-Comass 1-4; W 6-Cabral 1-1
Missed FG: SM none; W 47-Gunn 31 yds (wide left)
Notes: Showdown! Both teams entered 7-2 overall and 5-0 in conference. Santa Monica was ranked #18 in the South while West LA was ranked #20. M.Johnson returned the kickoff after West's 1st TD 49 yds, setting up SMC's 1st TD. West's 2nd TD came after Cabral's interception, which was on a nifty diving catch after the ball deflected off a receiver. West tried a quick-kick from the SMC 26 while leading 21-13; K.Johnson caught the ball at his 7 and returned it 89 yds to the West 4, setting up Medina's TD. That play turned the game around, though M.Johnson was stopped short on the would-be game-tying 2-pt conversion try. Medina's pass was incomplete on SMC's next 2-pt conversion try. SMC's last TD came one play after Perry's interception, which was caused by a big hit on Thompson by 99-Buchanan. This is Santa Monica's first conference championship since 1991!