WALNUT -- George Johnson had himself quite the birthday.
The senior quarterback led West Covina on a dramatic 80-yard drive with less than two minutes remaining -- capping it with a lunge into the end zone from a foot away -- to secure the CIF Southeast Division championship with a 37-33 comeback victory over Bonita on Friday night.
Talk about blowing out the candles and having a piece of the cake too.
"The best present ever," Johnson said before breaking a smile.
Before Johnson's heroics, Bonita had taken a 33-30 lead on a Brandt Davis 38-yard field goal with 1:46 left. That's when Johnson knew top-seeded West Covina -- which is notorious for its deep stable of tailbacks, not Johnson's throwing abilities -- would need his arm for the first time all year.
"We usually run the ball, but we had to throw it this time," Johnson said. "On that last drive we showed we could do both."
Johnson, who had thrown the ball only five times prior to last possession, worked the sidelines for a pair of first downs to begin the drive West Covina fans won't soon forget. Bonita cornerback Zach Brungard telegraphed the next play perfectly, but dropped an interception that would have sealed the deal. With the Bearcats' defense thinking pass, the Bulldogs (13-1) rushed for 37 yards on the next two plays.
Johnson called his own number with 32 seconds remaining, sneaking into the end zone to send the West Covina sideline into a frenzy.
"George has done that for three years," coach Mike Maggiore said. "There's no question we want the ball in his hands. We're not a throwing team, but we know that George can move the ball by his legs, by his arms, by his determination."
West Covina hardly needed Johnson's arm in the teams' previous meeting, which the Bulldogs won 55-21. But the rematch between the Hacienda League powers was nothing like the Oct. 29 affair.
Bonita showed up to play, evidenced by the in-your-face 13-play, 96-yard opening touchdown drive. West Covina absorbed the punch nicely and landed one of its own, responding with a 12-play, 90-yard drive for the tie. The teams were even, 14-14, at the break.
"They were tremendous," Maggiore said of Bonita. "In a game like this, it's tough to have one team as a champion. They're champions, too."
But in the end, it was a gutsy performance by a rather untested West Covina team, which at one point had fallen behind 23-14. The Bearcats (12-2) were opportunistic, recovering three fumbles and holding the Bulldogs to one offensive play in the first six minutes of the second half.
It was Johnson's 37-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Haigler early in the fourth quarter that brought West Covina all the way back. Bonita responded with another touchdown drive, but Chris Solomon countered with his third touchdown run of the night to knot things up again with under four minutes left.
"This team has loads of heart," said Solomon, who finished with 156 yards on 17 carries. "We came out in the second half knowing we had to fight, fight, fight."
The Bearcats threatened again but quarterback Garrett Pendleton (26 for 44, 348 yards) stalled in the red zone. Bonita had to settle for Davis' 38-yard field goal and the slim three-point lead. It just wasn't enough to pull off the upset.
It was Johnson's time to deliver -- and you can bet he blew out the candles.