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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame pulls out victory over Encino Crespi

Eric Solis kicked a 51-yard field goal to help the Knights pull out a 23-21 victory with one second left in the game.

October 31, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER | ON HIGH SCHOOLS

A sense of urgency was the message sent all week by both coaching staffs leading up to Friday night's Serra League football game between Encino Crespi and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.

There was no exaggerating the implications and consequences of a single loss in the four-team Serra League.

"Every game is really a playoff game from now on," Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney said. "There's no room for mistakes."

And so a Catholic school rivalry game that needed no additional incentives to increase the intensity of players was taken up a notch, and it produced a game to remember.

Crespi put together what appeared to be a game-winning drive, culminating in a 17-yard touchdown reception by Brandon Graves from quarterback Bryan Bennett with 57 seconds left to take a 21-20 lead over the Knights.

But quarterback Ryan Kasdorf drove Notre Dame to the Crespi 34, giving kicker Eric Solis the opportunity to boot a 51-yard field goal with one second left and enable the Knights to pull out a 23-21 victory.

"Coach Rooney was going, 'This is your moment,' " Solis said. "Words can't describe it. It was like a dream."

Graves was the night's top offensive player, catching 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Bennett completed 23 of 32 passes for 302 yards. Rasheed Johnson rushed for 128 yards.

But all those statistics from Crespi (4-4, 0-1) were meaningless, because the Celts couldn't compete with Notre Dame (7-1, 1-0) in the special teams department. And it was no surprise if it came down to a battle of special teams, Crespi would be in trouble.

Notre Dame is the school that keeps producing top kicker after top kicker. It was ex-Notre Dame kicker Erik Folk of Washington who beat USC with a game-winning field goal. It's ex-Notre Dame kicker Kai Forbath of UCLA who's a leading candidate for All-American honors. It's ex-Notre Dame kicker Nick Folk who's one of the top kickers in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys.

And now Solis has made his mark in Notre Dame kicking lore. He made field goals of 26 and 20 yards but missed badly on a 53-yard attempt earlier in the game. This time, he firmly kicked the ball and it barely made it over the crossbar.

It was not only Solis coming through. Sophomore punter Dylan Pritchard placed a punt at the Crespi two-yard line in the first quarter that set the stage for the Knights recovering a fumble at the six, leading to a three-yard touchdown reception by Tyler DiVincenzo. Meanwhile, Crespi missed an extra-point attempt and 32-yard field-goal attempt.

The frantic final minute illustrates how evenly matched the teams are in the Serra League. On the same night that Notre Dame and Crespi were playing a thriller, unbeaten La Puente Bishop Amat was pulling out a 27-24 victory over Los Angeles Loyola in overtime.

Kasdorf finished 17 of 25 for 245 yards passing for Notre Dame and Kenny Boggs rushed for 102 yards.

The first half featured several big plays. Graves had a 75-yard touchdown reception. Patrick Dayao of Notre Dame had an 81-yard touchdown reception.

The word was sent loud and clear that one loss could lead to a coin flip to decide a playoff berth at the end of the regular season.

The Serra League has only two guaranteed playoff berths in the Pac-5 Division among Notre Dame, Crespi, Bishop Amat and Loyola. The third-place finisher has to hope to earn a lone wild-card berth, and that could be tough this season because of the strength of the Sunset League.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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