QUARTZ HILL — The regular season had been quite a roller-coaster ride for the Highland High football team.
So why should the playoffs be any different?
Highland beat Santa Monica, 31-28, in the first round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs Friday night at Quartz Hill High.
But not before blowing a 31-13 halftime lead and managing only two first downs in the second half.
It just so happened the second first down sealed the victory. Quarterback Camy Smith threw an 11-yard pass to John Gambill with 1 minute 41 seconds to play on fourth and five.
"I don't believe it," said Smith, who rushed for two touchdowns and passed for one. "We made history."
The Bulldogs (8-3) earned their first playoff victory in their second playoff appearance since the school opened in 1989. They lost in 1991 to Tehachapi in Division IX.
They won despite being outgained, 438 yards to 285, by giving up several big plays, by tackling shabbily and missing several opportunities to sack Viking quarterback Dylen Smith and by being outscored, 15-0, in the second half.
Dylen Smith passed for 194 yards and rushed for 80. His biggest play was a 50-yard touchdown pass to John Tippins with 2:52 left to make the score 31-28.
Highland kept the drive alive by roughing punter Jeff Weichman.
But with Highland, which lost to Canyon (4-6) then upset fellow Golden League tri-champion Antelope Valley, this was no surprise.
Santa Monica (7-4), after being outscored, 22-6, in the second quarter, opened the second half with a five-play, 70-yard drive capped by a Sean Proctor's one-yard scoring run.
Weichman added a 26-yard field goal to make it 31-22. The Viking defense held Highland to 40 yards in the half until Camy Smith's pass to Gambill saved the day.
"We thought we had them at halftime," Camy Smith said. "We thought we could do a lot more. We need to play a full game."
Highland Coach Lin Parker watched video of five Santa Monica games and came away with this observation: "They look like they play in the WAC."
Western Athletic Conference teams are known for scoring points and allowing points in bunches.
This shootout started immediately. Bulldog Derek Brown opened it with a 42-yard field goal, then Santa Monica drove 80 yards in five plays to take a 7-3 lead, the touchdown coming on a 27-yard run by Tippins.
Highland regained the lead 16 seconds later on an 80-yard kick return by Brandon McElvaine.
McElvaine ran into a traffic jam at his own 30 before twisting toward the sideline and up field.
The Bulldogs went on to outscore the Vikings, 22-6, in the second quarter.
An interception and 23-yard return by Alex Avina set up a 63-yard drive by Highland, capped by a three-yard pass from Camy Smith to Will Demps. Brown's extra-point kick made it 16-7.
Smith later scored on an 80-yard run after he couldn't find an open receiver. Highland led, 24-7.