FONTANA — Three hours before game time, lines to get into Steeler Stadium stretched about 50 yards. Thirty-five minutes before kickoff, thunder and lightning rocked the sky. Soon enough, the rain came down in sheets.
Not to be outdone, Fontana and Encino Crespi high schools put on a show that will be remembered along with the rain, wind and cold. Fontana's Steelers, the top-seeded team in the Big Five Conference playoffs, scored twice in the final 9:15 of the game to win, 12-7, before a raucous crowd of 11,000 and advance to the title game next Friday at Anaheim Stadium. The Steelers will meet Fountain Valley, a 31-6 winner over Long Beach Wilson.
Not surprisingly, the weather had a lot to do with the outcome. Fontana (13-0) trailed for most of the game, and pulled within a point, 7-6, on Derrick Malone's nine-yard burst up the middle with 9:15 left. But the Steelers missed the extra point and a chance to tie when the snap short-hopped holder Kurt Bruich, whose desperation pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
Crespi got the ball back for all of one play, when Russell White, having his typically outstanding game, had the ball pop out of his arms. Bruich, the same one hurt by a slippery ball moments earlier, recovered at the Celt 48.
"I don't know who hit him (White), but it just sort of popped out," Bruich said. "I was going for the tackle and just jumped out at it. . . . I knew it was mine. No one was going to get that from me."
A 23-yard run by Edrian Oliver and a 17-yard run by Oliver on a reverse with a nice cut upfield in the middle of the line set up Malone's four-yard score over left tackle for the 12-7 lead with 5:24 to play.
Thus, Fontana continued its reign over the Big Five in the rain. An undefeated 1987 continued after reaching the semifinals last season and the championship game in '84, losing to Mark Green-led Riverside Poly at the Coliseum.
"I thought the game, with these conditions, 7-0 may win it," said Crespi Coach Bill Redell, whose Celts won the 1986 championship and finished 10-2-1 this season.
For a while--a long while--it looked that way.
White, who had 251 yards last week against Anaheim Servite and 348 in a first-round game against Riverside Poly, had 82 yards in the first half Friday. Fifty-eight of those came on the opening drive on back-to-back carries and gave the Celts their 7-0 lead.
Starting from the Fontana 41, White went around right end on Crespi's first play and gained 17. It was impressive considering the field conditions but merely a set up for what followed--a 41-yard romp around the left side for the score. Bill Gould hit the extra point.
By that time, with 9:04 left in the first quarter, the driving rains had transformed the field into the land of 10,000 puddles, at best.
White hydroplaned his way to 155 yards in 22 carries, including 7 rushes in the second half worth 7 yards or more.