CARSON -- Of all the motivating factors present within Friday's Marine League battle between rivals Carson and Narbonne, it might have been the who that made the difference.
The kids. Dozens of them. Eighth-graders from around the South Bay made the trip out to Carson's Gene Vollnogle Stadium to observe both local powers and decide which school to enroll in next year. First-year Carson coach Elijah Asante called it a "battleground."
Well, it looks like Asante's Colts are only going to get better next year, because the Colts managed to hold off the Gauchos, 26-23, in an thrilling contest that came down to the final minutes. Carson quarterback Justin Alo sealed it on the ground with two big fourth-down runs and also threw for two touchdowns earlier on.
"You gotta give Alo credit," Narbonne coach Manuel Douglas said. "When the game was on the line, he took control and made the big plays as a senior quarterback."
Big plays were the Colts' best option Friday, with little else working. Junior receiver Darreus Rogers caught a 39-yard score from Alo down the Narbonne sideline in the first quarter, and 5-foot-6 senior Myles Johnson had a 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Colts a 19-10 lead. Ronald Langdon had Carson's other first-half score on a 12-yard catch.
"We expect to make big plays all the time," Asante said. "It's what we do. It's what we rely on, and in clutch situations we will take chances.
"We don't tighten up -- we expect the kids to make big plays."
Plenty was on the line besides the eighth-graders, with key positioning in the tight Marine League up for grabs. Also available was the unofficial status as a potential challenger to Crenshaw for the top team in the L.A. City section. Afterward, Asante stopped short of saying his team was up there but did say that the Colts were one of "four or five" that could compete.
There was also some home field to regain. In the third round of the 2009 City Section playoffs, Narbonne beat Carson on the Colts' turf. Nearly a year later, no one else has done it.
Said Asante: "That was at least one demon we exorcised."
Narbonne sophomore quarterback, Troy Williams, did well to complete 14-of-24 passes for 144 yards on the night with a score and one interception. He also ran for 91 yards on 17 carries. He threw one interception.
The Gauchos were missing injured senior running back Noel Rankins. They replaced him with freshman Jonnel Johnson, who did an "adequate job," Douglas said.
Narbonne trailed 26-10 at halftime, but two quarterback sneaks from the one-yard line by Jonathan Navarro gave the Gauchos two scores and put them in position to come all the way back in the final minutes.
But Alo converted those two crucial fourth-down plays on the ground as Carson drove in the final minutes and, with just under a minute remaining, the senior drew an offsides on fourth-and-one that allowed the Colts to kneel to end the game.
"Tonight was just about making plays," said Rogers, who holds a scholarship offer from USC. "Two good teams were going at it."