For all of the offense that took place in the Southern Section Division V championship game -- and there was plenty Friday night at Riverside Norte Vista High -- defense once again proved to win championships.
Corona Centennial forced three second-half turnovers, two in the last 7 minutes 32 seconds, and turned them into touchdowns for a 49-35 victory over Norco.
It is the third section title for top-seeded Centennial (13-1), which won its last 13 games of the season after starting with a loss to Long Beach Poly. Centennial also won in 2000 and 2002.
Brandon Minor rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns in 28 carries and Dashan Miller and Chris Scott also had receiving, rushing and passing touchdowns, but the Centennial defense, which yielded 301 yards, put on the clamps in the stretch.
With the scored tied at 35-35, Centennial driving and 7:32 remaining, Norco (12-2) intercepted a pass at its goal line and returned it 40 yards. On the next play, Centennial forced a fumble and recovered it. It was the second time Centennial got a turnover one play after losing one.
The Huskies then drove 37 yards in five plays for a touchdown and 42-35 lead. Two plays later, Centennial's Stephen Elkins came up with a Norco fumble at the Cougar 30 and Centennial needed only five plays to take a 49-35 lead with 2:44 left.
Toby Gerhart finished with 223 yards rushing and all five touchdowns in 34 carries for third-seeded Norco.
Ventura St. Bonaventure 42, Ventura 14 -- The ball bounced the Seraphs' way on their first two touchdowns to silence an overflow crowd of about 6,500 at Ventura High as St. Bonaventure cruised to the Division IV title, its fifth section title in six years and first since 2002.
St. Bonaventure receiver Derek Wilson fumbled after taking a pass from Samson Szakacsy 40 yards to the Ventura one-yard line midway through the first quarter, but the ball wound up in the hands of teammate Cory Finnerty for a touchdown.
The top-seeded Seraphs made it 14-0 early in the second quarter after Ventura quarterback Lee Mondol tossed a lateral over the head of a teammate and linebacker Steven Lippert scooped up the ball and ran for a 32-yard touchdown.
Six players scored touchdowns for St. Bonaventure (13-1), which led, 28-0, at halftime and answered both of the Cougars' second-half scores with touchdowns on kickoff returns. Matt Lee returned one kickoff 87 yards and Tommy Dixon ran back an onside kick 47 yards.
Running back Tyler Clark gained 111 of his 122 yards in the second half for Ventura (11-3), which lost to its Channel League foe for the second time this season despite piling up 378 yards of offense to St. Bonaventure's 160.
West Covina 19, West Covina South Hills 8 -- West Covina put South Hills in a hole on the game's first play from scrimmage, and the Bulldogs' defense kept it there in the Division VII final at Mt. San Antonio College.
The victory gave West Covina (11-2-1) its first section title since 1965 and avenged a 17-10 San Antonio League loss earlier to South Hills, the two-time defending division champion.
West Covina took a 6-0 lead on a 69-yard run by Walter Thurmond on a quarterback option 25 seconds into the game.
The Bulldogs boosted their lead to 19-0 at the half on two one-yard runs by sophomore quarterback George Munoz.
West Covina sacked South Hills quarterback Kevin Mort three times on the Huskies' first two possessions. He didn't have a completion in the first half and finished 12 of 23 for 120 yards.
Thurmond finished with six carries for 94 yards.
Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro 21, Anaheim Western 14 -- In only their third year of varsity football, the Titans won their first title in the Division IX final at Orange Coast College.
Second-seeded Tesoro withstood a late rally from top-seeded Western (12-2), which lost in the title game for the second consecutive year.
Senior running back Evan Handa, who finished with 112 yards rushing and 66 receiving, scored all three touchdowns for Tesoro (12-2), which led at the half, 14-7.
Western made it 21-14 when sophomore Devonte Merrifield, who rushed for 178 yards and a touchdown, took a low punt on the run and zoomed 30 yards to the end zone with 2:21 left to play. The Pioneers then recovered an onside kick at the Tesoro 42, but the Titan defense held.
Encino Crespi 32, North Torrance 14 -- Randle Harris ran 35 times for 306 yards and three touchdowns, including a 64-yard score to give the Celts a 17-14 lead with 4:44 left in the third quarter, and host Crespi cruised the rest of the way to the Division X championship at Pierce College.
Fourth-seeded Crespi (10-4) won its first section title since 1986.
Second-seeded North Torrance (12-2) trailed, 10-0, midway through the third quarter before Anthony Ramos intercepted a pass from Matt Wabby and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. Mike Jones intercepted another errant Wabby pass less than a minute later and returned it 20 yards for a score to give the Saxons' their only lead of the game, 14-10, with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Harris, who ran for 220 yards in the second half, scored on runs of 14 and 22 yards in the fourth quarter as Crespi out-gained North Torrance, 434 yards to 89, on the game.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The Division V championship game pitted two of the Southland's top running backs, both from the Mountain View League. A look at how Corona Centennial's Brandon Minor and Norco's Toby Gerhart fared during Centennial's 49-35 victory:
*--* MINOR GERHART 2,585 Yardage entering final 1,967 146 Rushing Yards 223 28 Rushing Attempts 34 2 Touchdowns 5