RIALTO — Heading into the Southern Section Division I semifinal against Crespi, Eisenhower Coach Tom Hoak admitted the Eagles were looking past the Celts.
"Maybe we were thinking too much about playing for the championship," Hoak said. "There wasn't too much said about Crespi."
The Celts led at halftime and nearly pulled off a huge upset before succumbing, 7-3, Saturday night before 6,000 at Eisenhower.
Eisenhower (13-0) will meet Mater Dei in the championship Friday night.
Running back Marlon Farlow scored the game's only touchdown in the third quarter on a 19-yard run, erasing a 3-0 Crespi lead.
The Celts then drove to the Eisenhower six-yard line, but Eagle defensive back Bennard Hadnot intercepted a pass at the goal line by Dave Lins with six minutes to play to preserve the victory.
"That interception will go down as the play of the season," Hoak said.
Crespi's gutsy, aggressive effort will definitely be remembered by Celt fans despite the loss.
"It's just incredibly disappointing," said linebacker Patrick Jeffries, who led Crespi's swarming, undersized defense. "I just wish we could have shut them out, 3-0."
At halftime, that appeared to be a possibility. Crespi (8-5) took a 3-0 lead on a 34-yard field goal by Mark Herz 14 seconds before halftime.
His field goal was a free kick, which Crespi opted to take after Vito Clemente made a fair catch on an Eisenhower punt of 23 yards at the 24-yard line.
Eisenhower defenders had to stand 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and could not rush Herz, who drilled the kick through, stunning the team ranked second in the nation by USA Today.
"We didn't think we were the underdog," Coach Tim Lins said.
The Crespi defense totally shut down Eisenhower in the first half, holding the Eagles to 45 yards in 21 plays. Also, Eagle quarterback Glenn Thompkins fumbled in a crucial situation.
But in the third quarter, Eagle receiver Demond Birks caught a short pass and broke loose for a 43-yard gain. Farlow scored on the next play, and Crespi's valiant effort went for naught.
"They're a great team," Eagle lineman Jeff Bailey said. "They play with their heart."
But the Celts weren't through. Early in the fourth quarter, Eisenhower drove to the Crespi 11. On first down, Thompkins tried to run but was hit by Deron McElroy and fumbled. Jeffries recovered.
Lins (nine of 16 passing, 107 yards) then orchestrated Crespi's best drive. He completed a 44-yard pass to Wayne Emerson, advancing the ball to the Eisenhower 25. Two runs by Shaun Williams (19 carries, 60 yards) gave the Celts a first and goal at the Eagles' six.
Lins rolled out and threw toward Mike Glendenning (six catches, 45 yards). The pass was intercepted by Hadnot, however.
Said Crespi linebacker Mike Zele: "I thought we had more heart than they did. Time just ran out on us."