For those who can't wait until July for a fireworks show, there's always eight-man high school football. This version of the sport is one part adrenaline and three parts pinball machine, and the Mission Trail Athletic League left its best for last on Friday afternoon.
Rivals Pinewood of Los Altos Hills and Woodside Priory of Portola Valley left nothing to the imagination, trading blows for the league title in a raucous finale. And when the dust had settled, it was Pinewood with the big comeback win in overtime, 68-66.
Yep, you read that score correctly. Regulation play ended at 60-60. Bless you, eight-man football.
It was a pair of defensive stops on two-point conversions that made the difference for Pinewood. Priory scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Adrian LaValle to Mikhail Saliba on a fourth-down pass with 55 seconds remaining in regulation, tying the game at 60-all. But Priory's two-point try to win it (there are no kicking PATs in eight-man) failed when Muti Shuman landed with the ball but also with one foot out of bounds at the side of the end zone.
And so the game went to overtime, where the California Tiebreaker is employed. The teams take turns driving to the end zone from the 10, and both get a chance to possess the ball. Both teams scored on their first possession -- but Pinewood also scored its two-point conversion (Jaeden Bailey pass to Sean Murphy), and Priory failed on theirs (Keyshawn Ashford was driven back while trying to leap into the end zone).
Pinewood's Connor Riches and Alex Dagman made that final hit, sending Pinewood fans rushing onto the field to celebrate their team's first-ever outright league title.
By that time dusk was advancing, and a game that began at 3 p.m. was in danger of being postponed due to darkness.
"We would have had cars pull up near the end zone and shine their lights on the field," said Pinewood coach Matt Irvin, whose team finished 4-0 in the MTAL, 6-1 overall. Pinewood trailed at the half, 48-30.
"Somehow we made it work," Irvin said. "This is the closest-knit group I've ever had here. We have 11 seniors and they wouldn't be denied."
This one indeed had everything. Both teams had star players go down with injuries, only to have them bounce back and re-enter the game. Pinewood's Bailey threw for 257 yards and five touchdowns, and Priory's Adrian LaValle was 10-of-12 for 172 yards and four TDs.
Both Bailey and Murphy had to be helped off the field in the second quarter (Bailey with leg cramps, Murphy with a bruised leg). But both returned in the third. Murphy finished with six catches for 142 yards and three TDs.
"I had calf cramps in both legs, but I stretched and hydrated and finally told coach there was no way I'm missing the rest of this game," Bailey said. "He wasn't surprised at what I had to say."
Bailey, however, gave all praise to the defense. And to Marcus Fox for the overtime TD catch.
"That was all him," Bailey said. "I just got him the ball."
Priory, which suffered its first loss of the season, had an 18-point lead at the hald but lost its momentum when its top running back, Keyshawn Ashford, went down with cramps in both legs early in the third quarter. He had 134 yards on 13 carries at the time.
He came back in time for Priory's final drive, where he had an 11-yard run in their 85-yard scoring march. He also scored from 10 yards out in overtime.
But Ashford's sweep to the right on the two-point conversion was stopped, winning it for Pinewood.