On a night when both teams had an offense with the originality of a Joe Biden speech, the longest winning streak in the Southern Section was preserved by a fumble and the hands of a defensive back who had dropped a sure interception a couple of quarters before.
Muir High School, the two-time defending Coastal Conference champion, was trailing by three points with time running out when fate played a weapon that was downright offensive to perennial City power Banning. Paul Pitts, a senior defensive back, scooped up Keith Mims' fumble on one hop and raced 32 yards untouched with 5:11 left in the game to give the Mustangs a 6-3 victory Friday night at Pasadena City College and extend their winning streak to 27 games.
The mistake on a night when there were several gave Coach John Hazelton a loss in his first game as Chris Ferragamo's replacement at Banning. Muir, a team with a first-year coach of its own, Dwain Thornton, is 3-0 with another big game awaiting.
For Pitts, the fourth-quarter heroics were a matter of redemption.
"I had been having a bad game so far," he said. "Usually, I start slow in the first half. . . . I knew I would make something happen because I had to. I had to.
"I felt, kind of, vibes. An interception or picking up a fumble. Something to get us back in the game."
It got Muir in the game to stay. Banning, No. 2 in The Times' preseason City rankings, got the ball back twice after Pitts' touchdown (and a missed extra point by Dean Aloe) and went nowhere. The second time was with 34 seconds to play and resulted in four incomplete passes by quarterback Robert Kapu.
The first half ended with Banning leading, 3-0, but it was hardly a defensive battle, as both sides missed scoring opportunities.
For the Pilots, a team that had to replace 20 of 22 starters after last season, the first mistake came early. They pushed the ball to the Muir 33 on their first possession, punted, but got the ball back when Muir's Tim Milton muffed the catch at the six and were unable to score. They were as far as the four, when running back Zachariah Davis fumbled the pitch from Kapu for the turnover.
Muir did its part in the second quarter, taking over at the Banning 22 after a fake punt. The Mustangs got only as far as the 18 before Kapu's pass was intercepted in the end zone by Deven Brooks.
Banning, the No. 1 team in the nation for much of the 1986 season before losing to rival Carson in the City 4-A final, got a 32-yard field goal from Tito Martinez for its 3-0 advantage.
Quarterback Tarrel Amos led Muir with 89 yards passing and 53 rushing. The second-leading rusher on the winning team, Al Robinson, had 33. It was that kind of night.
Next week, Banning, which got 68 yards on the ground from Charlie Clark, plays Long Beach Poly in a Saturday afternoon game at Veterans Stadium while Muir gets Antelope Valley on the road. Rather, Antelope Valley gets a chance for redemption, the Mustangs' 37-0 thrashing in the CoastalConference title game last December still a bad memory for the Antelopes.