It's generally difficult for a player to find a place to hide on an eight-man football field. But Jerry Stephens of Coast Christian High managed to turn the trick on the shortened field at El Camino College Friday night against St. Margaret's.
Stephens, racing downfield with an interception, seemed to disappear for a moment at midfield behind a referee. When he reappeared it was too late for St. Margaret's defense. Stephens rambled the rest of the way for a 52-yard touchdown.
Coast Christian never looked back on the way to a 52-7 rout of St. Margaret's for the Southern Section Small Schools eight-man championship. The game ended after Steve Luce's conversion pass to Todd Anderson gave Coast Christian the margin it needed to win under eight-man football's 45-point mercy rule.
"It's a little rough to lose this way," said St. Margaret's Coach Brady Lock, whose Tartans dropped to 10-2. "I thought it would be a closer game. But they got up on us early and we couldn't catch up."
Stephens' referee-cloaked touchdown return was an example of the big plays Coast Christian (12-0) came up with all night. Most of the Saints' scoring was piled up by Stephens and sophomore tailback Earl Rhodes.
"I knew the defense was going to catch me," Stephens said of his unusual touchdown return. "I just headed for the sidelines and luckily (the referee) was there."
Stephens scored twice on interceptions (he picked off three passes overall) and added another touchdown on a 34-yard pass from Luce.
It was a big night for the 6-foot 1-inch, 200-pound Rhodes, who carried 29 times for 175 yards. His touchdown runs of 3, 9, 13 and 23 yards gives him 34 TDs on the season.
"We knew he was going to get his yardage," Lock said of Rhodes, who had gained 1,893 yards going into the game. "We just couldn't match the scores."
It wasn't a totally dismal night for St. Margaret's. Quarterback Chris Drey completed 9 of 15 passes for 57 yards, and flanker Matt D'Urso had six receptions, including a 12-yard touchdown catch on a flea-flicker pass from Damion Jones.
But Rhodes also played great defense at linebacker, forcing a fumble that led to a Coast Christian touchdown, and submarining through the line to nail Dan Campaigne for a safety.
"I'm just so happy for the kids," said Coast Christian Coach Dan Pride, who celebrated the Redondo Beach school's first championship. "I know how hard they worked all year."