It was the steal of the century.
Adam Brass, El Toro High School wide receiver, took a sure-look interception out of the hands of startled defender Bobby Joyce with no time remaining and scored on a 51-yard desperation pass play, giving the Chargers' a 13-12 win over Santa Ana Friday night before 6,000 rain-soaked fans at Santa Ana Stadium.
The 5-foot 10-inch Brass streaked down the right sideline on the last play of the game and went up for the pass from quarterback Bret Johnson on the Saint five-yard line. The 6-7 Joyce appeared to intercept the pass, but he bobbled the ball, and Brass took it out of his hands.
Brass turned and raced into the end zone and then was mobbed by his teammates. Ken Romaniszyn kicked the extra point, and El Toro had one of the most improbable wins you'll ever see.
The wild ending means the Chargers (11-2) will play for the Southern Conference championship for the second straight year. El Toro meets Los Alamitos for the conference title next Saturday night. Santa Ana, denied a third straight trip to the final, finished 11-2.
"It was a desperation play, absolutely," said Bob Johnson, the El Toro coach. "The odds of pulling off that play would be more than 1,000-1 in Vegas. Unbelievable."
El Toro gained possession with only 17 seconds remaining and trailed, 12-6. They had no timeouts remaining, and Bret Johnson had failed to complete a pass in the second half. Johnson threw an incomplete pass on his first play and was cited for intentionally grounding the ball on the next play.
The Santa Ana students were chanting, "E.T., Go Home" with one second remaining as Johnson rolled to his right on the muddy field and threw the desperation pass.
"I was hoping for a tip or something," Brass said. "I think he (Joyce) tried to catch it. I saw him go up, and as he was coming down, I tried to grab the ball. The next thing I knew, I had the ball and was running for a touchdown."
The unlikely finish overshadowed a great defensive effort by Santa Ana in the second half. The Saints scored two safeties and then appeared to have the game won when they stopped El Toro on their own 27-yard line with 1:27 remaining.
But after failing to move the ball, Santa Ana punted to midfield, and the 17 seconds remaining were just enough for Johnson to engineer the miracle.
Bob Johnson and Dick Hill, the Santa Ana coach, met with officials before the start of the game to decide whether to play in a driving rain that left the field six inches deep in water. Both coaches agreed to play.
The result was predictable as both teams turned the ball over three times in the first half. Robert Lee, Santa Ana's speedy tailback, fumbled twice and Bret Johnson threw two interceptions.
The Saints capitalized on a turnover to score first. Linebacker Damond Bland recovered a David Nemeth fumble at the Charger 46-yard line, and six plays later, Lee scored on an 11-yard run. Lee added a two-point conversion run, and the Saints had an 8-0 lead.
Johnson teamed with Sean Drinkwater on a 26-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to cut the Saints' lead to 8-6, but both teams found it difficult to generate much offense in the second half as playing conditions worsened.
Brass was forced to kick an errant snap on a punt attempt out of the end zone in the third quarter, giving Santa Ana a safety and a 10-6 lead. The Saints got a second safety moments later when defensive end Albert Ruiz sacked Johnson in the end zone.
Lee ended a brilliant three-year career with 114 yards in 25 carries. He finished with 4,388 yards in his prep career.
Johnson completed 4 of 11 pass attempts for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.