It's that time of year when championship teams find a way to win, and that's what Anaheim Servite did Friday night to defeat Mission Viejo, 19-18, in a Pac-5 Division semifinal at Cerritos College.
Never leading for most of the game but always sustaining hope because they have a player the caliber of electrifying senior quarterback Cody Fajardo, the Friars waited patiently until Fajardo worked his magic.
It came with 2 minutes 55 seconds to play. Rolling left, Fajardo found a way to slip a tackle, then saw a wide-open Rudy Guerrero and lofted the ball barely over the hands of another helpless Mission Viejo defender. Guerrero caught it for a 48-yard touchdown to put the Friars on top, 19-12.
But the drama had just begun. Mission Viejo quarterback Dallin McEwen orchestrated his own game-deciding drive, taking over the Diablos' 21-yard line. There was a diving 36-yard reception by Jake Marshall. And there was a 17-yard touchdown pass to Marc Millan with 47 seconds left that pulled the Diablos to within 19-18.
Mission Viejo called timeout, and Coach Bob Johnson decided to go for the victory. He had little choice. The Diablos had already missed on two conversion kicks.
McEwen got the ball and tried to deliver victory with his arm. He looked for a receiver on a crossing pattern but no one was open. The pass fell incomplete, and Servite (12-1) earned itself a spot in next Saturday's championship game at Angel Stadium.
"We've been in the situation before, and that experience really helps," said Fajardo, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 155 yards.
Servite Coach Troy Thomas trusts Fajardo completely, and for good reason. From the first game to this latest one, he has delivered time and again. He has 18 touchdown passes with only two interceptions all season.
And it's about time a big-time college football program steps forward and makes him an offer. He's 6 feet 2, with mobility and instincts that make him a perfect fit for somebody.
"Everybody tells me they love him," Thomas said, "but they haven't offered. It's, 'If somebody falls through, he's my No. 1 guy.' It's getting old for me, and I know it's getting old for him."
But everyone needs to see the replay of how Fajardo turned a potential sack into a game-winning touchdown pass.
"I basically slipped the tackler," he said. "People say I'm elusive. I saw Rudy downfield and gave him a shot."
The first half ended in a 6-6 tie, with both teams frustrated by missed scoring opportunities. While Mission Viejo (12-1) scored on its opening possession on an eight-yard touchdown run by Exavier Edwards, the Diablos' Joey Branker dropped a potential 44-yard scoring pass and freshman Eric Harris missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt to end the half.
While Servite got field goals of 25 and 37 yards from Connor Loftus, the Friars had a 14-yard touchdown run by Fajardo wiped out by an illegal-procedure penalty.
This game revolved around Mission Viejo's ability to contain Fajardo and Servite's focus on stopping the Mission Viejo running game. Edwards had 118 yards rushing.
Servite got back defensive tackle Kirifi Leuta-Taula, who had missed the previous five games because of a broken arm, but he was on the sideline in the second half with his left arm in a sling.
It didn't really matter. Servite found a replacement, and that's what the Friars do best -- find a way to win.