NORWALK — There were tears. There were cheers. There were boos. There were the Esperanza Aztecs and Los Alamitos Griffins milling about at midfield trying to make some sense of their 14-14 tie in the Southern Section Division II championship game Saturday night.
A crowd of 9,000 at Cerritos College was strangely quiet. They didn't seem to know how to react to this strange and unforeseen turn of events.
"What do we do now," a Los Alamitos player asked nobody in particular when the gun went off with the Griffins some 35 yards from the end zone and a winning score.
Ever since Foothill and El Modena played until Johnny Carson came on in the 1981 Division III title game, the section did away with overtime in championship games.
So there were Orange County's best teams trying to sort out their emotions.
"It's anticlimactic," said Los Alamitos quarterback Tim Carey who threw for 195 yards and one touchdown. "We're the champs. I guess that's a good way to end."
It was no different in the Esperanza camp.
"It's good that we're co-champs, but we wanted to win it outright," said Esperanza quarterback Jon Aed, whose five-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter helped the Aztecs tie their Empire League rival.
Los Alamitos lost its lengthy winning streak, but it remained unbeaten in 21 consecutive games. The Griffins finished the season with a 13-0-1 record, which included a 34-14 victory over Esperanza Oct. 30.
Esperanza finished 12-1-1 and compiled a 39-2-1 record in the last three seasons. The only blemishes were against Los Alamitos.
"Tomorrow, I'll feel better," Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes said. "We played a great team twice (this season) and they couldn't beat us."
Asked about his feelings, Esperanza Coach Gary Meek said, "I don't know . . . I can't describe it. . . . "
It was a strange game indeed.
Neither team could gain much of an advantage over the other. Neither could hold any sense of momentum.
Maybe it was the brisk wind that blew threw the stadium that knocked everything out of kilter.
Los Alamitos struck for bigger plays and with greater quickness, but Esperanza was steady and dependable.
The Aztecs struck first, but Los Alamitos came back on a trick play that produced a 53-yard touchdown pass play from wide receiver Don Ruberio to George Sagen that pulled the Griffins into a 7-7 tie in the third quarter.
Later, Carey connected with Ruberio for a 50-yard scoring pass play that gave the Griffins a 14-7 lead with 2 minutes 6 seconds left in the third quarter.
"They were manning up and Donny outran them," said Carey, who completed 14 of 26 passes and moved to second on the county single-season passing list with 3,397 yards. "We sent George deep, too. And we had the wind."
With the wind at his back in the fourth quarter, Aed drove Esperanza 88 yards for the tying score--his five-yard draw with 6:44 remaining.
"I was thinking that this was my last game playing organized football and I wanted to go out a winner," Aed said.
Carey, drilled in the ribs after a pass on Los Alamitos' first possession, seemed tentative at times and made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Twice Esperanza defensive back Kevin Shoup intercepted his passes. The second interception and a 23-yard return set up the half's only score, a four-yard touchdown run by Tom Joyner with 7:58 left in the half.
E--Joyner 4 run (Knox kick)
LA--Sagen 53 pass from Ruberio (Kolasa kick)
LA--Ruberio 50 pass from Carey (Kolasa kick)
E--Aed 5 run (Knox kick)
LEADING RUSHERS--E: Ross 13-51; LA: Wright 12-44. LEADING PASSERS--E: Aed 3-7-0, 38; LA: Carey 14-26-2, 195. LEADING RECEIVERS--E: Hall 2-30; LA: Sagen 6-90.
* ON THE PREP PATH
Tim Carey and Travis Kirchke resolve little in high school finale. C12
* DOUBLE DUTY
Throwing and catching, Don Ruberio did the scoring for Los Alamitos. C12