The Granada Hills team was silent as it took the field to face Carson in the City Section 4-A Division final, almost as though the group was en route to a wake. Awake? They looked comatose. Only one voice was audible as the team exited the locker room in a somber, single-file formation.
"It's going to be an upset," Granada Hills receiver Kyle Jan said quietly as players jogged past a group of reporters at East L. A. College on Friday night.
At the time, upset seemed a mite understated. Miracle was the logical term, since Carson entered the game unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in a national poll.
Jan and the team didn't stay quiet for long, however. A few hours later, the improbable prediction was fulfilled as Granada Hills shocked Carson, 27-14.
In the fourth week of the season, Carson bullied Granada Hills, 42-14 and its defense forced several Highlander mistakes.
Of the 4,000 spectators Friday, most expected a reprise.
Instead, they saw reprisal.
And Jan was right in the middle of most of it. The talk, it turned out, wasn't just Jan jive after all.
"When we came out the door I told you we'd do it," he said.
Jan had seven catches for 93 yards, including a 25-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jeremy Leach that gave the Highlanders a 14-6 lead at the half. Jan also intercepted two passes from Carson quarterback George Malauulu. When he wasn't catching passes from two quarterbacks, he was serving as cheerleader.
"I usually don't show much emotion out there," Jan said. "I guess I got a little carried away."
When Leach hit tight end Sean Brown from 16 yards out to give Granada Hills a 7-6 lead, Jan was seen running up the tartan track that encircles the football field, waving his arms to fire up the Granada Hills fans.
"He was definitely into it," Leach said. "He went nuts."
Most of the Granada Hills team was anything but crazy before the game, however. Instead of the boisterous approach, the Highlanders went out steely-eyed.
"We'd read all about it," said Jan, a Times All-Valley receiver. "We saw where everybody was saying we didn't even belong on the same field with them. We knew we could do it."
Jan's second interception was a big play for the 6-foot, 4-inch senior--he picked off a Malauulu pass at the Granada Hills' 35 with 6:44 remaining. Three plays later, Leach hit receiver Darryl Stephenson for a 29-yard touchdown that gave Granada Hills a 21-6 lead. Jan finished the season with five interceptions.
Thanks, mom: Sure, Granada Hills was an underdog, but by how much?
"I think if we played Carson five times, we'd probably lose three or four times," said Leach, a Times All-Valley selection. "They are a great team."
It should be noted that the Leach family isn't big on playing longshots.
"I overheard my mom say before the game that she wouldn't bet on us," Leach said with a laugh.
Most felt Granada Hills (9-3) would have to play a flawless game to have any realistic chance, but strangely, the Highlanders turned the ball over five times--two interceptions and three fumbles--and still managed to hold off Carson (11-1).
"We went in thinking we had to play our best game ever," Leach said, "but the defense ended up saving us I don't know how many times."
Numbers game: A sampling of statistics provides an indication of why the Granada Hills upset might be considered perhaps the biggest in City history.
Malauulu had only three interceptions all season. Granada Hills picked off Malauulu passes on three consecutive second-half attempts. Backup quarterback Frederick Gatlin threw one pass and it was intercepted and returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Kevin Carmichael, giving the Highlanders a 27-6 lead.
Granada Hills' 27 points was equally unlikely. Entering the game, Carson had allowed a total of 62 points in 11 games.
Carson had allowed only 27 points in the first half and 20 in the second quarter--yet the Highlanders scored 14 in the period. The Colts had scored 159 points--their best quarter--in the second, but Granada Hills blanked Carson in the 12-minute span Friday.
Momentum change: A key play that was lost in the shuffle came with 2:03 left in the first quarter when Carson's Louis Perez missed a 22-yard field-goal attempt. After Carson linebacker Warren Arthur intercepted a Leach pass at the Granada Hills' 31, the Highlander defense held. A successful attempt by Perez would have given the Colts a 9-0 lead and a big psychological edge.
"I couldn't believe he missed it," Jan said. "It was almost like an extra point. That had to hurt."
Funny footwear: East L. A. College has one of the few synthetic surfaces in town. Players on both teams discarded the usual cleated shoes for more practical attire on their tires.
Carson linebacker Arnold Ale, who set team records this season for sacks and unassisted tackles and was named The Times' South Bay defensive player of the year, wore a pair of high-tops with an army camouflage pattern.
Leach forgot his turf shoes and had to borrow a pair from Highlander linebacker David Kim.
Hair flair: Several Granada Hills players shaved their heads Thursday, but none settled for a garden-variety flat-top.
A group of offensive linemen went for the buzzed-over-the-ear look, with a couple of players opting for colored highlights, a la Brian Bosworth.
Leach had perhaps the most interesting cut, however. The Roman numerals XVII were carved in the back of his head--he wears uniform No. 17.
"Now I have to go to the banquet with my hair like this," he said.
He'll also appear on television. The game will be televised on the Prime Ticket cable network at 7:30 tonight.