A physical first two quarters on Friday night between Las Lomas and Hayward reached a dramatic turning point just before halftime, with the host Knights effectively ending any thoughts on a Farmers’ comeback in the final minute of the first half and then pulling away for the 37-6 victory in the North Coast Section Division 3 semifinals.
Midway through the second quarter, trailing 13-0 at the time, Hayward drove across midfield when Francisco Sedano hit Alzillion Hamilton down to the Las Lomas 41-yard line. Hamilton fumbled at the end of the run, however, recovered by the Knights. Las Lomas would then drive down inside the Hayward five-yard line, but the Farmers’ defense held stiff, dropping Isaiah Newell for losses on second and third down to force a 20-yard field goal by Hayden Grant, with 59 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
It appeared that would be the halftime score, but Hayward decided to take its shots down the field at the Las Lomas defense, running less than 30 seconds off the clock before deciding to punt. Farmers’ punter Peyton Churchwell then inexplicably pulled the ball down and tried to race around the right side of the Las Lomas defense on fourth-and-10 and was dropped at the line of scrimmage, giving the Knights the ball at the Hayward 31-yard line.
The Knights ran a three-receiver route to the right side of the formation on first down, but Everett Johnson’s pass sailed past receiver Zach Patterson, who had broken off his route earlier than Johnson expected. Las Lomas coach Doug Longero was visibly upset with Patterson’s route, giving the six-foot senior specific instructions to stay on his seam route down the hash mark, and going back to the same play. This time, Patterson ran open down the right hash, and Johnson delivered the ball for a 31-yard score with just 13 seconds remaining in the first half, and a 23-0 lead as the teams headed off the field.
“Coach (Longero) makes my life so easy, with what he sees on the field,” Johnson said. “He makes sure we have a great game plan and our guys then do a great job executing that, getting open and making plays.”
The late 10-point swing in the Knights’ favor would then be compounded on the first drive of the third quarter, when the Oregon State-committed Newell opened the drive with runs of 46 and 11 yards, before Johnson hit Elijah Lash on a quick swing route out of the backfield, when the linebacker to Lash’s side blitzed off the edge. Lash caught the ball along the right sideline, powered through a tackle attempt near the 15-yard line and outran two other Hayward defenders for the 27-yard touchdown reception. That gave the Knights a 30-0 lead and erased any lingering doubt as to the final outcome.
“We had some unfortunate circumstances last year up there (in Eureka) for the semifinals,” Newell said. “This year, we knew we were facing a big and physical team, and we had to fight hard against that. Hayward hit us hard and was a physical challenge, but we set the tone early with the touchdown on our first drive, and kept momentum on our side throughout the game.”
Indeed, the game started out looking as if it might be a back-and-forth battle between the defenses. Hayward had a big pass play called back for holding on its first possession, and a short punt gave Las Lomas the ball at the Farmers’ 26-yard line for its first possession of the game. The Hayward defense held tough on the first three plays, but on fourth-and-10, Johnson hit Newell on a quick wheel route down the right sideline for a 14-yard gain, and Newell then finished the short drive with carries of nine and eight yards, the latter of which got him in the end zone for an early 6-0 lead.
It was a similar circumstance on the following Las Lomas drive, which started at the Hayward 45-yard line after the Farmers had to punt from deep in their own territory. This time, facing a third-and-13, Longero perfectly dialed up the screen pass to Newell, and he navigated his blocking down the right sideline for the 48-yard touchdown, giving Las Lomas a 13-0 lead with 3:15 left in the first quarter. The score would remain that way until the final minute of the first half.
“Sometimes you just get lucky with those play calls, but our kids also did a great job executing in key situations,” Longero said. “Our offensive line came to play, against a physical defensive front, and we made a lot of those key plays when we needed them.”
Las Lomas completed its scoring when Johnson connected with Tyler Darr for a five-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, his fourth touchdown pass of the night. Johnson finished 12-of-20 for 199 yards and the four scores, which were spread out to four different receivers.
Hayward got on the board with 1:30 left in the game, when Josh Jackson darted through the Knights’ defense for a 54-yard touchdown. Jackson had 93 yards on the night, as the Farmers played a bit short-handed at the skill positions. Standout receiver and defensive back Asi Bailey did not dress for the game, and the Hayward run game suffered a blow on the first play of the game, when 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Garrett was injured and would not return.
Newell finished the game with 15 carries for 107 yards, despite being dropped behind the line of five occasions by the Hayward defensive front seven, which featured a strong night from middle linebacker Nelson Suisala.
Last year, the Knights won all 10 regular season games before losing to Eureka in the NCS semifinals, a game that was played basically on a mud bog. This year, after going 9-1 in the regular season and sharing the DAL-Foothill title, Las Lomas is a game away from capturing its fourth section title, and third with Longero at the helm. A win next weekend in the NCS title game – against either Rancho Cotate or Benicia – would also mean the first-ever trip for the program to the CIF bowl game series.
“We know that every game now could be our last, but we can’t let our nerves get to us, because we just want to build this legacy,” Johnson said. “Tonight might have been the best we have played all year, and we just need to keep building on that.”
For Hayward, the loss ended the program's best season since 2006. The Farmers went 9-1 in the regular season, were unbeaten in the WACC-Shoreline for their second straight league title and then handled American Canyon in the quarterfinals last week for the first playoff win under current head coach Justin Redemer.