One arm, quarterback Bret Johnson's right one, proved to be more valuable than a pair of swift legs Friday night as Johnson led El Toro High School to a 26-20 victory over Hawthorne.
A crowd of 4,500 at Mission Viejo High saw Johnson complete 12 of 15 passes for 177 yards as the Chargers held off a late rally.
With the victory--its 10th in 12 starts--El Toro advanced to the semifinal round of the Southern Conference playoffs against Santa Ana, a 42-26 winner over Santa Monica. Hawthorne finished its season 9-2-1.
Curtis Conway, Hawthorne's fleet-footed quarterback, brought the Cougars back from a 20-7, early fourth-quarter deficit. And he did it mostly with his running.
Conway, who also threw for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 of 16 passing, ran for 100 yards, most of which came when forced to scramble from the pocket.
His best moves came on a 56-yard scoring run to begin the fourth quarter. Trailing, 20-7, on a second-and-24 situation at his own 44-yard line, Conway dropped to pass.
He was chased from the pocket, circling back twice to avoid pressuring Charger defenders. His second swerve brought him close to his own goal line.
Finally, Conway found a seam and ran past practically the entire El Toro defense on his way to the end zone.
"I've never seen a guy that fast before," defensive tackle Corey Wayland said. "We were just trying to force him up the middle during the game and get as many people to hit him as possible."
Wayland was just one of the many Chargers left in Conway's tracks.
Outside of Conway, however, the Cougars could manage little else offensively. Their other running backs, Rod Taylor and Brent Floyd, gained eight and seven yards, respectively.
El Toro got an added boost from running back Adam Brass. With El Toro uncharacteristically running more than passing, Brass gained 43 yards in 12 carries. He also scored two touchdowns on runs of four and six yards. His 6-yard burst gave El Toro a 26-14 lead with 7:50 to play.
Still, it was Johnson who led the Chargers, though he failed to throw a touchdown for one of the few times in his career. He hit stride in the middle of the game. He completed five passes in a row, including a 46-yard toss to wide receiver Chris McCarthy, streaking up the left sideline. The play gave El Toro a first down at the Hawthorne 15.
Brass then carried four consecutive times, including the four-yard touchdown.
"We wanted to work on our run game tonight," El Toro Coach Bob Johnson said. "Generally, we saw some things in their defense that showed we could run."
Johnson, who also is Bret's father, said there was nothing specific the Charger staff saw.
Said Goy Casillas, Hawthorne coach: "We expected them to play the way they usually did--passing. And they came out and ran."
Said Brass: "We just came out with the run and we were successful, so we stuck with it."