Escobar completed 20 of 28 passes on the day, but by far the most important one was the 71-yard touchdown pass with 2:54 left in the third quarter that gave Fullerton (12-0) a lead it would hold the rest of the way. And it came just 57 seconds after Riverside (10-2) got a touchdown from quarterback Skylar Howard to take a 14-10 lead.
It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams, but this game was very different from October's 38-36 Fullerton win that featured over 1100 yards of offense as well as nearly 300 yards in penalties. This time around the defenses controlled play, forcing a total of 15 punts, and points were relatively scarce. And both teams maintained an excellent level discipline in this game, with neither team committing so much as a single penalty other than the 5-yard type for things like illegal procedure, encroachment and failing to snap the ball before the play clock expired.
At first, it looked like another shootout was on the way as Riverside took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field, scoring on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Howard to Mikey Stallone just 1:11 into the game to take a 7-0 lead.
But after that, scoring was relatively infrequent, and most of the scoring plays came after turnovers. Fullerton got a 38-yard field goal from Ian Boozer after Treshon Broughton recovered a Riverside fumble at the Hornet 31. And the Hornets took a 10-7 lead on a 3-yard run by power back Nick Norman following Broughton's second fumble recovery later in the first quarter.
Neither team scored in the second quarter, with Riverside coming the closest when Michael Canahei's 50-yard field goal attempt was just wide to the right and maybe a little short with 11:52 left in the half. Fullerton drove to the Riverside 16 yard-line at one point, but came away empty when Boozer's 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 9:38 left in the quarter.
Riverside capitalized on a turnover to take the lead later in the third quarter, getting the ball on a fumble recovery at its own 34 midway through the quarter. That led to an 11-play drive that covered 66 yards, and a 7-yard touchdown run by Howard that gave Riverside a 14-10 lead with 3:51 left in the quarter.
But that lead lasted just 3 plays and 57 seconds before Esobar connected with Longoria on the go-ahead touchdown. The 6-3 Longoria took the pass near midfield and raced down the right sideline for the score, earning Fullerton Player of the Game honors in the process. Longoria would finish with 4 catches for 140 yards on the day. Boozer's extra point made it 17-14 with 2:54 left in the third quarter.
Then the defenses dug in once again. Riverside got the ball but quickly had to punt, the first of five straight possessions between the two teams that all ended in punts. The last of these, a 55-yard boot from Anthony Johnston, gave Fullerton the ball at its own 16 with 8:23 left, still clinging to the narrow 3-point advantage.
But the Hornets put together a 12-play drive that covered 84 yards, ended with a 9-yard touchdown run by Ryan Byrd and clinched the championship for the Hornets. The drive also took 6:28 off the clock, giving Riverside just 1:55 in which to rally from a 9-point deficit. That Boozer's kick was wide right mattered not at all, as it was still a two-score margin.
Riverside drove across midfield, reaching the Fullerton 34, but then Howard's pass deflected off a defender and into the hands of Shawn Stephens at the Hornet 27 yard-line, essentially ending any thoughts of a Riverside comeback. Fullerton ended up punting the ball away one last time, but the Tigers got the ball back with just 8 seconds left still trailing by 9 points, and by that time the celebration had begun on the Fullerton side of the stadium.
For Riverside, Howard completed 24 of 37 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for a touchdown. Anthony Knight rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries and also caught 2 passes for 13 yards; he and Howard handled virtually the entire running game for Riverside in the absence of injured backs Denzel Foster, who rushed for 256 yards against Fullerton in October, and Sir Darius Yarbrough, who rushed for 856 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry on the season. Marquis Thompson led all receivers with 6 catches, good for 70 yards, while Stallone had 5 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
With the win, Fullerton advances to the state championship game for the first time since the game was begun in 1997. The Hornets last won the California state championship in 1983, but that was as a result of a poll. Fullerton also won the state title in 1965 prior to playing in the Junior Rose Bowl and in 1967 after defeating American River in a playoff game. The Hornets will travel to Butte College in Oroville for the state championship game on December 14th.
Fullerton Hornets 23, Riverside Tigers 14
Saturday, November 30, 2013 - 1 pm - Shapell Stadium (Yorba Linda HS)
Southern California Championship Game
R - Stallone 9 yd pass from S.Howard (Cahanai kick) 13:49 (0-7)
F - FG Boozer 38 yds 6:25 (3-7)
F - Norman 3 yd run (Boozer kick) 2:32 (10-7)
R - S.Howard 7 yd run (Canahai kick) 3:51 (10-14)
F - Longoria 71 yd pass from Escobar (Boozer kick) 2:54 (17-14)
F - Byrd 9 yd run (kick wide right) 1:55 (23-14)
First Downs: Fullerton 22 (9 rush, 13 pass), Riverside 18 (7 rush, 11 pass)
Rushes-Yds: Fullerton 43-188, Riverside 30-162
Passing Yds: Fullerton 347, Riverside 232
Comp-Att-Int: Fullerton 21-33-1, Riverside 24-37-1
Return Yds: Fullerton 121, Riverside 120
Sacks-Yds: Fullerton 3-23, Riverside 1-9
Fumbles-Lost: Fullerton 3-3, Riverside 3-2
Penalties-Yds: Fullerton 4-17, Riverside 8-40
Time of Possession: Fullerton 33:23, Riverside 26:37
Rushing: F 27-Byrd 19-79, 5-Johnson 14-65, 17-Escobar 5-23, 9-McKenzie 2-10, 30-Douglas 2-8, 34-Norman 1-3; R 28-Knight 14-98, 6-S.Howard 15-62, 10-Torrance 1-2
Passing: F 17-Escobar 20-28-1-332, 1 TD; 9-McKenzie 1-3-0-15; R 6-S.Howard 24-37-1-232, 1 TD
Receiving: F 24-Sitigata 5-91, 11-Longoria 4-140, 2-Pleasant 4-50, 8-Daniels 4-27, 5-Johnson 2-15, 82-Sanders 1-19, 46-Main 1-5; R 18-Thompson 6-70, 87-Stallone 5-53, 10-Torrance 3-25, 48-J.Howard 2-19, 13-Shreve 2-14, 28-Knight 2-13, 1-Blackmon 1-17, 17-Biggers 1-15, 3-Walker 1-14, 6-S.Howard 1-(-8)
Interceptions-Ret Yds: F 40-Stephens 1-0; R 11-B.Smith 1-0
Fumble Rec: F 26-Broughton 2-31; R 11-B.Smith 1-0, 24-Ford 1-0, 99-Mitchell 1-0
Sacks-Yds: F 40-Stephens 2-19, 96-Muse 1-4; R 92-Taylor 1-9
Punters: F 59-Martinez 6-39.3 avg; R 16-Johnston 9-43.9 avg
Kick Returns: F 1-Marenco 3-90; R 10-Torrance 4-66, 9-Moore 1-21, 1-Blackmon 0-32
Punt Returns: F none; R 17-Biggers 1-1
Missed FG: F 61-Boozer 33 yds (wide left); R 39-Canahai 50 yds (wide right)
Notes: MVP: Jose Escobar. Fullerton Player of the Game: Ryan Longoria. Riverside Player of the Game: Bryce Smith. Fullerton goes to 12-0 and advances to the state championship game for the 1st time. Riverside finishes to 10-2 with both losses to Fullerton. Fullerton's FG came after Broughton's 1st fumble recovery; his 2nd fumble recovery set up Fullerton's 1st TD. Smith's fumble recovery helped set up Riverside's go-ahead TD. Fullerton's clinching TD came after a 12-play, 84-yard drive that chewed up 6:28. Stephens' interception with 1:18 left ended any chance of a Riverside comeback. Fullerton will face Butte for the state championship on 12/14.