Fontana High School rushed for 240 yards in the second half and scored 23 unanswered points to advance into the second round of the Big Five Conference playoffs with a 23-9 victory over Servite Friday night in front of 6,500 fans.
After the Steelers, now 10-1, had been shut out in the first half as their vaunted running game was limited to but 53 yards, Coach Dick Bruich replaced starting quarterback Mike Spinnuzi with Chris Hancock in a move that paid off.
Hancock got the sputtering offense in gear and directed three touchdown drives to give Fontana its ninth straight win of the season and the right to meet Loyola in the next round.
Servite, which finished the season at 7-4, capitalized on two Fontana turnovers to take 9-0 lead in the first half on a touchdown and a safety.
The Friars opened a 2-0 lead when Hancock decided to kick a poor center-snap out of the end zone while attempting a punt.
Defensive back John DiGiambaattista set up the Friars' only touchdown when he recovered Fontana fullback Derrick Malone's fumble at the Steeler 34-yard line late in the first quarter. Tailback Derek Brown then scored on a two-yard run on the first play of the second quarter for a 9-0 lead.
That's when Bruich decided to shake up his team and change quarterbacks.
"We've done that 'switch quarterbacks' every game this year," Bruich said. "Hancock is our relief pitcher. But I don't think the quarterback switch had anything to do with turning the game around. We just started blocking and running better in the second half."
Indeed, the Steelers gained 115 yards in the third quarter and added another 125 yards in the fourth quarter. Keith Washington was the Steelers' top rusher with 122 yards in 11 carries and teammate Mark Bedwell added 106 yards in 14 carries.
Both gained most of their yardage on reverses out of Fontana's Delaware Wing-T offense, something Servite's defense was never able to adjust to.
Asked about his team's defensive problems, Friar Coach Leo Hand declined to comment. In fact, Hand just walked off the field at the end of the game, ignoring all questions.
The Steelers start 17 juniors and Bruich said he sensed some playoff jitters in the first half.
"Yeah, the young guys were a little nervous and we couldn't get anything going in that first half," Bruich said. "Those two turnovers hurt us, but we finally settled down and played good football."
Fontana moved to within two points, 9-7, when Malone scored on a two-yard run in the third quarter and then sealed the win with two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter.