MANHATTAN BEACH -- Loyola's defensive front had to come up with one more stop.
The Cubs' defense had been impressive all night Friday, locking the Mira Costa Mustangs in a corral of sorts. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
But with less than two minutes left and Mira Costa down just five, Loyola needed to throw away the key. Bury it. Swallow it. Anything.
Lineman Jack Semcken came up with what first-year coach Mike Christensen was looking for, dropping tailback J.R. Tavai for a huge loss and forcing a fourth-and-long. Mira Costa quarterback Dalton Crawford's next pass fell incomplete and Loyola's defense had done it.
"It shows that we're a real team," Loyola quarterback Jerry Neuheisel said. "When one of us goes down, the other one can step up. The D stepped up for us. They made a lot of plays for us, especially in crucial situations."
Christensen was happy to leave with his first victory at the helm.
"I thought we hung in there, I liked how we kept playing until the end," he said. "We knew we would have to. Mira Costa is a terrific team."
Comeback victories are hard to come by, especially on the road. But that's what Loyola was able to do. The defense was behind it.
Mira Costa led 5-0 until Loyola's Jared Baker's last-minute score at the end of the first half.
Baker, who has committed to Arizona, stunned the large crowd with a 71-yard scamper on the second play from scrimmage. A holding call against Loyola negated the score.
Mira Costa's J.R. Oshima blocked a punt three plays later, with the ball skipping out of the end zone for a safety. Brendan Sofen added a field goal in the second quarter.
The Cubs' defense was stellar from that point on -- something that could not be said about the offense.
Loyola tried running to the left. No luck. Baker tried the middle. Nothing doing.
"They had a lot of guys at the line of scrimmage, it wasn't Baker's fault," Christensen said smiling. "He can't run through people."
Unfortunately for Mira Costa, Baker proved he can run around people.
With less than a minute left in the first half and Loyola in the red zone following a blocked punt, Baker tried the right side. The Mustangs were there again, like stubborn colts. Cornered, Baker reversed field, galloping to his left and lunging for the go-ahead score.
A field goal in the third made it 10-5 Loyola, setting the stage for the defensive show.
"We didn't play well on offense," Neuheisel said. "But special teams picked it up, defense picked it up. Offense made plays here and there. I think once we get everything going right we'll be a dominant threat in L.A."