It was the steal of the century.
Adam Brass, El Toro High's wide receiver, took a sure-look interception out of the hands of startled defender Bobby Joyce with no time remaining to score on a 51-yard desperation pass play, giving the Chargers' a 13-12 victory over Santa Ana Friday night in front of 6,000 rain-soaked fans in Santa Ana Stadium.
Brass, 5-feet 10-inches, streaked down the right sideline and went up for a pass from quarterback Bret Johnson on the Saints' five-yard line. Joyce, 6-7, appeared to intercept the pass, but he bobbled the ball and Brass took it out of his hands.
Brass turned and stepped five yards 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 victories one will ever see.
The wild-ending meant 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," El Toro Coach Bob Johnson said. "The odds of pulling off that play would be more than a 1,000-to-1 in Vegas. Unbelievable."
El Toro gained possession with only 17 seconds remaining and trailing, 12-6. It had no timeouts remaining and 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, "ET, Go Home" with one second remaining as Johnson rolled to his right on the muddy field and threw the pass.
Brass said he was surprised the Chargers even got the pass off before time expired.
"I was hoping for a tip or something," he 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 was just enough time for Johnson to engineer the comeback.
"It was a shame that either team had to lose," Bob Johnson said. "This would have been an unbelievable game in favorable playing conditions and it turned out to have an unbelievable ending."
Johnson and Dick Hill, Santa Ana coach, had met with officials before the start of the game, deciding whether to play in a driving rain that left the field full of water or postpone the game. Both coaches agreed to play.
The decision seemed a poor one as both teams turned the ball over three times in the first half. Robert Lee, Santa Ana's speedy tailback, fumbled twice and Johnson threw two interceptions.
The Saints capitalized on a turnover to score first. Linebacker Damond Bland recovered a David Nemeth fumble at the Chargers' 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 the teams found it difficult to generate much offense in the second half as playing conditions worsened.
Brass was forced to kick an errant snap out of the end zone after the ball was centered over his head while back in punt formation 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, second best in the county behind the 5,397 racked up by Ray Pallares, who played for Valencia from 1983-85.
Johnson completed 4 of 11 pass attempts for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.