ENCINO -- The unthinkable nearly happened to Vista Murrieta in the first quarter of Friday's game at Encino Crespi. The Broncos star player, Su'a Cravens, went down with what appeared to be a sternum injury. Turned out, it was only a scare.
The highly-touted junior returned in the second quarter. Returned in a big way, mind you. Cravens had an interception and scored a pair of touchdowns, one rushing and the other receiving, to guide Vista Murrieta to an impressive 38-20 victory.
“I wasn't coming out, no way, this one was too big of a game,'' Cravens said. “I got popped pretty good and the hit stung. I played through the pain though. If the coaches told me that I couldn't have returned, I would've jumped in the lineup somehow.''
Indeed it was a big game. Crespi (4-1) entered the showdown as the odd-on favorite with a No. 4 spot in the ESPNLA.com rankings.
The Broncos (4-0) were not considered a slouch. They boasted a No. 17 ranking in the ESPNLA poll and will likely move up next week.
Vista Murrieta opened the fourth quarter the same way it finished the third: Scoring a touchdown. With some extra effort, Darion Williams found the endzone on a 4-yard run to give the Broncos a somewhat surprising 38-13 lead with 10:59 left in the game.
The Celts mounted one last comeback effort. Things looked to be heading in the right direction when Nicolas Metoyer caught a 20-yard pass from Cody Cordell. The drive, however, stalled in a major way as Cordell missed Chris Harper on a long pass play.
Cordell connected with Harper later, on a 7-yard touchdown pass with :34 left on the fourth quarter clock, for the game's final margin. It was too little too late.
Staked to an eight-point lead to start the second half, the Broncos did not appear satisfied. They put together a nice drive and Tyler Rausa capped things off by kicking a 22-yard field goal to extend the advantage to 24-13 with 5:00 remaining in the third quarter.
Cravens intercepted a Cordell pass and returned the ball to Crespi's 17-yard line. A 15-yard penalty on at the end of the play did not help matters. Shortly thereafter, Cravens scored on a 1-yard run to give the Broncos a 31-13 lead with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
The effort by Cravens should not come as a shock. He is, after all, one of the nation's top players for the 2013 class. He has offers from seemingly every powerhouse program in the nation, including Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Florida, Georgia and USC are among other interested.
“Su'a is a work in progress, but there's a lot to like about his game,'' Broncos coach Coley Candaele said. He is not a finished product yet, I keep telling him that. He is focused on improving all the time. When the time comes, he'll make an impact at the next level, in college.''
A pair of Crespi turnovers proved to be costly late in the first half, the second of which was an Elijah Brown interception. The Broncos capitalized. Nicholas Stevens connected with Cravens on a 19-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 21-13 with 1:02 left in the second quarter.
Stevens posed as a threat with his arm and legs in the first half. He scrambled for 41 yards midway through the second quarter. And accordingly, Stevens scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give Vista Murrieta a 14-13 lead with 4:56 left before the break.
Stevens finished with 150 yards rushing on 16 carries. He completed 5-of-7 passes for 44 yards as well.
Crespi used its passing game to get things going towards the end of the first quarter. Cordell went up top and found Harper on a 35-yard touchdown pass to give the Celts their first lead of the game, 13-7, with 1:57 remaining in the opening quarter.
"I knew about Harper, we didn't want to let him beat us,'' Cravens said. "He still did a great job.''
Harper finished with five catches for 76 yards.
"We weren't going to let Harper beat us over the top,'' Candaele said. "He still made plays though. Kid is a talent.''
Williams and the Broncos took advantage of the unfavorable conditions early on. During the first downpour of rain, he broke a couple of would-be tacklers and scored on a 40-yard touchdown run to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead with 5:42 left in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Mike Davison returned the ball 80 yards and the Celts took over in the red zone. Minutes later, Harper almost hauled in 26-yard touchdown pass. Officials ruled the pass incomplete amid controversy.
The Celts, however, would not be denied.
Cordell scrambled for seven tough yards on fourth and 4 from the Broncos 15-yard line to keep the drive alive. He followed the gutsy play up with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jabrian Blackwell to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.