Perhaps it was no fluke that the circus came to Anaheim this week. Next to aging Glover Field, where a second-round Big Five Conference playoff game was played Friday night, a carnival was at full throttle.
The lights were bright and there was electricity in the air. It was the perfect atmosphere for the thrill-a-minute high school football game that followed.
It was step right up and take your best shot all night long as Crespi outlasted Servite, 45-38, before a crowd of 7,000. But it took 19 fourth-quarter points by the Celts to finally put a dart in Servite's balloon.
The tailbacks from each team were in the center ring and each lived up to billing as the teams combined for 761 yards in total offense--429 by Crespi. Russell White rushed for 251 yards in a career-high 32 carries and scored 4 touchdowns for the Celts, while Servite's Derek Brown had 216 yards and 4 touchdowns in 22 carries.
"That," Servite Coach Leo Hand said, "was one helluva high school football game."
Brown set a Servite single-season rushing mark with 1,483 yards, breaking the old record of 1,325. White has rushed for 2,114 yards and 33 touchdowns and has 36 touchdowns overall.
In the end, it was a mistake by Brown that gave Crespi (10-1-1) the game. With Servite trailing, 39-38, with 4:47 remaining and the ball on its own 23, Brown was tackled by Crespi's J. J. Lasley, who knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble at the Servite 19.
Six plays later, White scored from five yards out. When the conversion was aborted by a bad snap, the Celts led, 45-38, with 1:48 left.
But Servite wasn't through. After he returned the kickoff to the 34, Brown caught two passes from senior quarterback Jason Frank to move the ball to the 44. Frank scrambled for a one-yard gain, then connected with receiver Jason Rees, who beat the Crespi zone coverage and was knocked out of bounds at the Celts' 45 with 48 seconds left.
Frank then hit Brown on a screen to the 25 for a first down with 34 seconds left. Frank again tried to hit Rees on an out pattern, but the receiver dropped the ball. A third-down draw play to Brown gained five yards, after which Servite (8-3-1) called a timeout with 21 seconds remaining and the ball on the 20.
On fourth and five, Frank again missed Rees, primarily because of tight coverage by Crespi's Chris Fauria. The ball fell short with 14 seconds left.
"That was one of the best high school games anyone could ever see," Crespi Coach Bill Redell said.
Crespi (10-1-1) plays Fontana, a 42-0 winner over Long Beach Poly, in a semifinal next week.
The Celts trailed, 24-14, at the half, but White--who scored on runs of 2, 43, and 5 yards as well as on a 54-yard pass--scored on a two-yard hurdle over the middle to forge a 24-24 tie.
Servite answered three plays later when Brown scored on a 53-yard burst up the left sideline to give Servite a 31-24 lead.
Crespi scored again thanks to a snap that sailed over the head of Servite punter Robert Diaz. Diaz stepped out of the end zone for a safety, which brought Crespi to within 31-26 at the end of the third quarter.
White waited three plays to score again, this time on a 43-yard pitch around left end. Crespi bungled the conversion, but the Celts still led, 32-31.
Brown answered White two plays later with a run of 46 yards. That gave Servite a 38-32 lead, setting up Brown's key fumble.
Servite scored 21 points in the second quarter, which included two touchdowns by Brown.
With Crespi leading, 6-3, Frank connected with receiver Jason Rees on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Rees, who had beaten Crespi defensive back Chad Nichols for a 45-yard gain, again burned Nichols on a slant-in pattern for the score, which put Servite on top, 10-6.
Brown then hit his stride against the Celts. The 5-foot, 10-inch junior scored on a nine-yard run up the middle on Servite's next possession, which was set up by defensive back Pat Wessner's interception of a Ron Redell pass.
White answered Brown's challenge with some flashy footwork as well. After a personal foul against Servite gave the Celts a first down on their own 46, Redell hit White in the left flat. White, who was in motion on the play, took advantage of a perfect block by Bunkie Rayner and scooted 46 yards up the left sideline for the score, which brought Crespi to within 17-14.