Rarely has anything looked so impressive and so ugly at the same time. It all depended which side you were watching from.
Santa Ana High School, seemingly scoring at will in the first half, jumped out to a 34-0 lead and appeared on its way to a rout. Was Santa Monica Coach Tebb Kusserow going to give his players a pep talk at halftime, or just tell them when the banquet is?
Whatever, it worked, to some degree at least. Santa Ana won, but had to hold off the comeback-minded Vikings for a 42-26 victory in the Southern Conference quarterfinals Friday night before a crowd of 5,800 at Santa Monica College.
In this tale of two halfs, Santa Monica made things interesting by scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter to make it 34-26. But Santa Ana got its cushion back on a 14-yard touchdown run by Robert Lee and two-point conversion pass from Rob Fanti to Lee, and neither team scored again.
Tuioti, looking very Darth Vader-ish with the plastic covering the front of his helmet, completed 7 of 11 passes for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns, most all of which came in the first half. Lee had 151 yards rushing in 21 carries. Split end Royal Wilbon caught two passes for 159 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns.
To be sure, Santa Ana, the conference runner-up in 1986 and 11-1 this season, showed off a lot of its weapons at the expense of the Santa Monica defense. In a nutshell, the Saints were unstoppable.
"Nobody can beat us when we play like this," Tuioti said. "But I don't think we've reached our potential yet.
"The key was that we went with everyone. We didn't want to stay with Robert all the time. Just him being back there was a big enough factor."
Santa Monica (9-2) relied on its usual factor: Running back Glyn Milburn. On his way to setting a Southern Section record with 2,718 yards rushing in a season, surpassing the 2,620 by Ryan Knight of Riverside Rubidoux in 1983, Milburn hit Santa Ana for 251 yards in 30 carries, his ninth straight 200-yard game, and rushing touchdown No. 38, fourth best ever in the nation.
But this time, unlike several other outings this season, the One Man Show, closed with disappointing results.
"When you play a team as physical as Santa Ana and a team that has as much talent, that puts a lot of stress on the defense," Kusserow said. "That showed in the first quarter."
Santa Ana, looking for its third straight appearance in the title game, wasn't exactly wearing itself out at the start while scoring on its first five possessions. From the outset, the Saints were as precise as dominating.
On the opening drive, Santa Ana started at its own 32 and scored 6 plays later on Estrus Crayton's 15-yard run.
A Milburn fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the Saints the ball on the Santa Monica 35. Tuioti spotted Julio Vargas wide open on the right flat on the first play for touchdown No. 2.
Two plays into the third possession, it was 21-0. This time, Tuioti hooked up with Wilbon, who outraced the Viking secondary for a 79-yard score.