Cornerback Dion Lee collapsed to the artificial turf in disbelief. Running back Tyrone Bland, overcome by emotion, was consoled by a coach.
Carson's dream season had come to a nightmarish end with a 27-14 loss to Granada Hills in the L.A. City 4-A championship game Friday night at East Los Angeles College. Some Colts found it difficult to accept a loss to a team they had beaten, 42-14, on Oct. 16 at Granada Hills.
Senior middle linebacker Rick Tiedemann wasn't one of them.
"We took them too lightly this time," he said, tears welling in his eyes. Granada Hills "came out and played a hell of a game. Their defense pounded our offense. I don't know what they did differently. They did it well."
The statistics show that Carson surpassed Granada Hills almost 2 to 1 in total yards (315-178), but those are deceiving numbers. The most significant statistic was Carson's five turnovers, including four interceptions in the second half.
The Colts, who finished 11-1 for the second straight year, had plenty of chances to come back late in the game, but each time they were victimized by their own mistakes.
In a four-minute span of the fourth quarter, Carson committed the four sins that led to its demise:
Trailing 14-6, the Colts got to the Granada Hills 10-yard line, where quarterback George Malauulu fumbled the ball into the hands of Granada Hills strong safety Sean Brown, who returned it to the Carson 32 with 8:30 left.
After forcing Granada Hills to punt, Carson turned over the ball again when Granada Hills cornerback Kyle Jan intercepted a pass by Malauulu to give the Highlanders possession at the Carson 26 with 6:33 left.
Jan's interception led to a touchdown, a 29-yard pass from quarterback Jeremy Leach to Darryl Stephenson, who caught the ball in the end zone after Carson's Lee had deflected it into the receiver's hands. Granada Hills now led, 21-6, with 5:40 left.
Malauulu, who had been shaken up on the previous series, was replaced by junior Fred Gatlin after the kickoff. Gatlin was hit as he attempted his first pass. The ball fluttered into the arms of free safety Kevin Carmichael, who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown and a 27-6 lead with 5:05 left.
Carson defensive tackle Sale Paopao tried to rally his teammates: "It ain't over yet." But it was. The Colts didn't have enough time to pull off any miracles.
The loss ended Carson's hopes for an unbeaten and untied season, its chance for a second straight 4-A title and a record-tying ninth city championship for Coach Gene Vollnogle, whose career record in 33 years at Banning and Carson now stands at 276-73-1.
Asked if it was one of his bitterest defeats, Vollnogle said: "Not really. I thought Granada Hills played well. You can't take anything away from them."
Vollnogle seemed most disappointed in his team's inability to take advantage of scoring chances early in the game. Carson drove inside the Granada Hills 10-yard line twice in the first quarter, but came away with only a 6-0 lead after kicker Louis Perez missed an extra point and a 22-yard field goal attempt.
"We had the opportunities," Vollnogle said. "We just didn't capitalize. I thought we would play well. We had good practices this week. But we didn't play well today, that's for sure."
Tiedemann, on the other hand, said he didn't like the atmosphere in practice.
"We were serious," he said. "But in a different sense, we were taking them lightly."
Granada Hills Coach Darryl Stroh couldn't have been more proud of his team, which became the first San Fernando Valley school to win the major division city title since San Fernando did it in 1975.
"I think we had a great game," he said. "As great a game defensively as I have ever been associated with."
The Highlanders (9-3) finished with a seven-game winning streak. Their only losses were to Alemany, Carson and Thousand Oaks, the CIF Coastal Conference champion.
Malauulu said the stunning loss brought back memories of Carson's 21-11 upset over Banning in the title game last year. Banning was 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today when it lost. Carson was 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today before Friday.
"It was just like Banning last year," said the quarterback, who was intercepted three times and lost a fumble. "We came in sky high and dropped dead.
"I think part of it was that we were overconfident. We should have come in and did our assignments. But (Granada Hills) came in determined. Their hearts were with them."
Malauulu said he dreamed twice this week that Carson would lose. When his nightmare became reality, he looked on the bright side of what had been an excellent season for the Colts.
"It's still a good season," he said. "We have to look toward other things . . . toward what's in the future."
The Bay League basketball race doesn't begin until Jan. 8, but already the league is shaping up as one of the South Bay's most competitive from top to bottom.