Playing in conditions more suitable for sea gulls and ducks, the football players from Anaheim Servite and Huntington Beach Edison did their best to slip, slide and gingerly maneuver around a drenched Angel Stadium in the Pac-5 Division final Saturday night.
Yes, it was perfect football weather, East Coast style, but these teenagers from beach communities kept looking for someone to provide leadership on how to succeed when their hands are wet and each step produces a puddle of water.
Enter Servite quarterback Cody Fajardo, who didn't need fins or scuba gear to feel comfortable in his surroundings. He just led the same way he has all season. He threw a touchdown pass and rushed for 95 yards in a 16-6 victory over the Chargers.
"It was like a mud bowl out there," Fajardo said. "It was pretty cool to play in the rain."
It was Servite's (13-1) first upper-division championship since 1983. It avenged the Friars' only defeat this season to Edison (13-1), and put them in position to receive a CIF state championship bowl berth on Sunday. Boasting the toughest schedule in the Southland, the Friars have a good case for being chosen to represent Southern California in the Open Division.
What a season it has been for Servite, which ended a 20-year winless streak to rival Santa Ana Mater Dei and won a fifth consecutive Trinity League title.
But a Pac-5 title is the sweetest reward for Coach Troy Thomas and his players who overcame injuries and an Edison team that had been unbeatable since passing leagues started last June.
The winner of this game became clear in the third quarter after the rain ceased. Fajardo completed a 37-yard pass to Rudy Guerrero and later threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Ainslie Johnson with 6:27 left in the third quarter to put the Friars on top, 10-0.
The Chargers got their first big break when a Servite punt snap sailed over the head of punter Christopher Nicholls into the end zone. He picked up the ball and ran it back to the 20, where Edison took over.
The Chargers had moved to the seven-yard line when quarterback Matt Viles lost the ball on Edison's fifth fumble of the game, but Tyler Troya recovered it at the one-yard line. On fourth and goal, Viles completed a one-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Zumwalt on the second play of the fourth quarter. The conversion attempt was blocked, making it 10-6.
The Chargers never got into position to take the lead. They turned over the ball on downs to Servite with 2:48 left on the Friars' 46 after four consecutive incompletions. Credit Servite's hard-hitting secondary, led by cornerback Karlton Dennis and safety Michael Marcoux, for doing a great job inflicting punishing hits.
And then Christopher Nicholls clinched the victory with a 54-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left.
A steady rain caused havoc for Edison in the first half. The Chargers seemed out of their element. They had four fumbles, losing three. Viles struggled getting any kind of velocity on his throws. And his usually sure-handed receivers weren't much help either. Viles finished nine of 28 for 82 yards.
Servite led only, 3-0, at halftime and missed on field goals of 40, 31 and 30 yards.
"The rain played a huge factor," Fajardo said. "It was hard to make tackles. I slipped some tackles that I didn't expect to."