Tesoro receiver Brett Perry is brought down by Hart defensive back Wes Fitzpatrick… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Championship teams find ways to win on off nights, and Tesoro, ranked No. 4 by The Times, was hardly looking like a Pac-5 title contender Friday night.
No. 17 Newhall Hart outplayed the Titans for more than 40 minutes.
"It was an ugly game from the start," Tesoro Coach Brian Barnes said.
Then, with the game on the line, Tesoro's offensive line started to pound the Indians, inspiring running backs Nate Tago and Parker Wells to sacrifice their bodies and fight for every yard.
On an 80-yard, 13-play drive, the Titans ran the ball 12 times, the last of which was a one-yard touchdown plunge by Wells with 1:33 left. It enabled Tesoro to escape with a 10-7 victory.
"After that win, I'm not feeling anything," said Tago, who rushed for 108 hard-earned yards. "We decided to do what we do best — run the ball. You got to give it up to the offensive line."
This was not the kind of performance expected from a Tesoro team that returned 17 starters.
The Titans lost two fumbles in the first quarter, had 11 penalties and struggled passing the ball. Quarterback Matt Adam rushed for 126 yards.
But Tesoro's defense was relentless in pressuring Hart quarterback Brady White. Chazz Roberts had a pair of sacks.
Hart was able to maintain a 7-3 lead on the strength of a 23-yard touchdown run by Connor Wingenroth late in the first quarter.
But after the Indians failed to convert on a 22-yard field-goal attempt with 61/2 minutes left, Tesoro's offense took advantage.
"We worked as hard as we could," Hart defensive tackle John Perkins said. "The offense needs to pick it up. We're definitely not where we want to be. We have to work 12 times harder. We don't want to lose games like this."
Hart was so close to a breakthrough victory that has been lacking in recent years. With six Southern Section championships since he took over the Hart program in 1989, Coach Mike Herrington has experienced lots of good times. Except the Indians haven't really been able to compete with top teams lately. They suffered a talent drain after the opening of Valencia West Ranch.
But the Indians have started to be the destination again for top youth players, such as sophomore quarterback Brady White and sophomore receiver Trent Irwin.
"Hart's going to have a great year," Barnes said.
And so will the Titans if they clean up their mistakes.
It was a night for surprises. Moore League teams, led by Long Beach Poly, went 0-7. Chino Hills tied No. 13 Bishop Amat, 48-48.
But Tesoro avoided an upset. A good omen for its future.