The only ingredient missing from Friday night's matchup of unbeaten Santa Ana Mater Dei and unbeaten Harbor City Narbonne was snow, rain or a little mud, because the fourth quarter produced a defensive struggle that will be long remembered for its intensity and big-time hits.
In the end, a tipped pass by Narbonne's Sidney Watkins with one minute left on fourth down at the Narbonne 33-yard line enabled the Gauchos to hold on for an 18-17 victory.
By winning, Narbonne (5-0) has pulled off the improbable — knocking off Southern Section powers Long Beach Poly, Gardena Serra and Mater Dei in nonleague games to establish itself as one of the favorites to land a CIF regional playoff berth.
"We hold our own destiny," Coach Manuel Douglas said.
Narbonne wiped out a 17-12 deficit with 1 minute 4 seconds left in the third quarter when Johnell Jackson caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Troy Williams on a swing pass for an 18-17 lead. The score was set up by a botched Mater Dei punt attempt.
The rest of the game was about whether Mater Dei could get into field-goal position, and three times, the host Gauchos' defense rose up to deny the Monarchs.
Yes, City Section fans have a right to brag, especially about the Gauchos' defense.
On the final play for Mater Dei, quarterback Ryan McMahon had an open receiver, but Watkins got his hand on the ball, and it fell harmlessly to the turf, setting off a celebration of pride and relief.
Narbonne was able to put enough pressure on McMahon and quarterback Chase Forrest to disrupt the Monarchs, recording four sacks. Paulo Lepua, a tackle, had another standout game for the Gauchos.
Give credit to Mater Dei for its patience and perseverance. Mater Dei's offense put together an 80-yard scoring drive to start the third quarter, doing something no team has done against the Gauchos' defense. Thomas Duarte caught a 34-yard pass to ignite the drive. Justin Allen's seven-yard touchdown run gave Mater Dei a 17-12 lead.
Narbonne's offense did little in the first half, but the Gauchos still held a 12-10 halftime lead on the strength of a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown by Keishawn Bierria and a 65-yard touchdown play by A.J. Richardson on a short pass from Williams.
The Gauchos turned the ball over twice with an interception and fumble, giving confidence to Mater Dei's defense.
Narbonne's defense came through with three sacks, but McMahon avoided the rush on a key play in the second quarter and was able to find a wide-open Duarte in the end zone for a 29-yard scoring play.
Duarte had seven receptions for 114 yards.
Narbonne will now focus on winning the City Section Division I title, and with its defense, don't think the Gauchos won't do it.