Notre Dame running back Khalfani Muhammad finds a hole in the Oaks Christian… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
The Pac-5 Division football playoffs are about survival and finding a way to advance, and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame left no doubt about how fortunate it was on Friday night after pulling out a 28-27 first-round victory over Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
"We're lucky and we'll take it," Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney said.
The luck came into play after Oaks Christian converted a fourth-and-five situation with 1 minute 19 seconds left. Chris Davis caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Dawkins. Oaks Christian only needed a successful conversion kick to tie the score.
But Wyatt Nelson's kick went wide right, and Notre Dame (8-3) advances to a quarterfinal game against No. 3-seeded Bellflower St. John Bosco on Friday.
"I feel bad for the kicker," Notre Dame quarterback Kelly Hilinski said. "I hate it came down to that, but I'll take it."
Hilinski, a 6-foot-6 senior, did things lots of people never thought were possible from him. The Knights let him run the option play, and he had 48 yards rushing.
"They don't expect me to run, so I took advantage," he said.
Hilinski completed 10 of 15 passes for 191 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Khan.
He was intercepted at the one-yard line by Anthony Sandoval in the first half.
Oaks Christian came away with a 7-0 halftime lead on the strength of an 80-yard opening drive that ended with D.J. Riggins scoring on a two-yard run. Oaks Christian's defense held Khalfani Muhammad to 31 yards rushing in 13 carries in the first half.
But Muhammad finally got untracked in the third quarter, scoring on runs of 13 and 16 yards. He finished with 89 yards rushing in 19 carries.
Chris Colarossi added a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
"They were really good on defense," Rooney said. "We adjusted our attitude in the second half. We got more aggressive and started blocking better."
Dawkins kept his team in the game, completing 25 of 36 passes for 304 yards.
Davis caught 11 passes for 135 yards. Francis Owusu caught a 63-yard touchdown pass. Dawkins, like Hilinski, rarely runs the ball, but on this night, he rushed for 83 yards in nine carries.
Afterward, Oaks Christian players were in tears.
The Lions had moved on to section championship games for nine consecutive seasons, were 38-4 in playoff games and had never lost in a first-round playoff game.
It was a tough ending for first-year Coach Jeff Woodruff.
"My thing is we didn't quit," Dawkins said. "When you give it your all, that's all I can do."
Notre Dame's defense did a good job tackling, particularly linebacker Anthony Gutierrez. Kyle Ause contributed a key interception at the one-yard line to stop an Oaks Christian drive in the second quarter.