LONG BEACH -- It should have been a throwaway play. Los Alamitos had driven 50 yards, but a fumble and personal foul moved the ball back 31 yards. Facing a third-and-37, Los Alamitos quarterback Dylan Lagarde handed off to the in-motion Nick Richardson, who swept his way to the left sideline and cut back on the diagonal, through the Edison linebackers and the secondary and finally into the end zone.
Richardson went 57 yards on a snap that should have set up a punt, should have been an incidental in the stat book. Instead, it foretold what was to come.
Richardson, who had gained fewer than 57 yards in the two games since returning to the lineup from a toe injury, rushed for 158 yards as No. 23 Los Alamitos scored a 26-21 victory Thursday over No. 21 Edison to win the Sunset League title at Veterans Stadium. It is the 16th title in coach John Barnes' 32 seasons at Los Alamitos.
Richardson's dash wasn't the only long score of the first quarter. Richard Turner caught a medium-range pass from Lagarde and, as two Edison defenders bounced into each other, Turner bolted to the end zone for a 78-yard score and a 13-7 lead. It was the first of three touchdowns scored by Turner, who also added a four-yard carry in the second quarter and 69-yard dagger in the third to go up 26-14.
“The big plays happened because everyone did their jobs,” said Turner, a senior who had his first three TD game of his career. “In the past we haven't done our jobs.”
The first two touchdowns for Los Alamitos (8-2, 5-0) came on third-and-12 and third-and-eight situations. The Griffins converted a fourth-and-four with a pass that went for 21 yards that preceded Turner's second score to make it 20-7.
Yet Edison (7-3, 4-1) was a game contender. Twice the Chargers were driving for a likely touchdown only to turn it over, once on a bad snap, another in the final minute of the third quarter when Chase Favreau underthrew Nick Masaniai and the pass was intercepted by Caleb Austin at the nine. Favreau passed for 220 yards and ran for 50, but couldn't match Los Al's 285 yards rushing and Lagarde's 134 passing.
“They've got a lot of guys who can make big plays,” Edison coach Dave White said. “It's easier said than done to slow down their big plays. ... A lot of times when they got big plays it was on third and long or fourth down. We didn't get enough breaks, didn't make them. It was a championship battle.”
Los Alamitos, which won its fifth in a row, now looks like the team most expected at the beginning of the year but which clearly fell short of expectations in the nonleague portion of its schedule. Some of that had to do with Richardson's injury, but in a game against Santa Margarita, the Griffins didn't even compete in an embarrassing 31-7 loss.
Those Griffins are dead.
“Oh my god, after that game, yelling,” Turner said of the post-Santa Margarita tirade by coaches. “Practice, yelling. We had a bye so it was two weeks of yelling. It was really bad, but we really needed that. Everyone stepped up. ... Once everyone stepped up, this is the outcome right here. Sunset League champion.”