It was only a first-round playoff game, but the sight of hundreds of Orange High School students rushing onto the field at Fred Kelly Stadium after the Panthers' 22-21 Southern Section Desert-Mountain Conference victory over Norte Vista Friday night gave an indication of what 13 years of missing the playoffs can do to a school.
Orange Coach Mark McMahon promised a mob scene at the Orange Circle, located in the center of town, where players, students and parents congregate and honk their car horns after a victory.
"It's going to look like a small Midwestern town tonight," McMahon said. "We haven't been in a situation like this for a long time." Orange last made the playoffs in 1972.
The Panthers (7-4), who run a controlled, methodical offense, were precisely where McMahon didn't want them in the fourth quarter, trailing by a large margin.
Norte Vista had a comfortable 21-6 lead with less than 11 minutes to play, when Orange tailback Paul Maund shook off three Brave defensive players and ran 87 yards for a touchdown. Maund took a pitchout on the conversion and passed to a wide open Kerry Reed in the end zone.
With six minutes left, Orange began its winning drive, going 78 yards in nine plays, with Maund scoring on a one-yard run with 2:49 remaining.
Still trailing 21-20, McMahon decided to gamble and go for a two-point conversion. Quarterback Mike Stock rolled to his right and found Maund in the corner of the end zone.
"We couldn't match up well in a tiebreaker situation," McMahon said of his gamble. "And we didn't want to put that kind of pressure on our kicker."
The Panther defense held Norte Vista on the next series, but Orange running back Ernie Vasquez fumbled on the Norte Vista 28-yard line with 1:06 left.
Defensive back Kerry Reed intercepted Brave quarterback John St. Jacques' desperation pass, however, to preserve the victory.
Maund rushed for 145 yards in 17 carries, despite injuring his shoulder on his first carry.