LONG BEACH -- The referee made the call emphatically. There was no question in his mind that Richard Turner caught a third-down pass out of bounds along the sideline of the end zone while guarded by Nathan Walker. The crowd moaned. Coaches screamed.
There were only 3 minutes 3 seconds left in the game, Crespi held a seven-point lead and it was a do-or-die moment for Los Alamitos.
Now, it was fourth down from the eight-yard line. Dylan Lagarde passed to Turner again. He turned to the end zone but was tackled from behind by Walker at the four-yard line.
For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Two plays later Crespi’s Kenny Stenhouse threw deep to Devin Lucien for a 96-yard insurance score as the Celts defeated Los Alamitos, 28-14, in the first round of the Pac-5 playoffs. Crespi (8-3), which missed the playoffs both years since its 2007 finals appearance, will play the winner of the Servite-Long Beach Jordan game played Friday.
Stenhouse completed 10 of 18 for 233 yards and three touchdowns – two to Lucien, one to Trevon Calahan.
Even though there was no guarantee that Los Alamitos (8-3) would have converted the PAT – one was blocked earlier in the game – the storyline revolved around Turner’s would-be catch on the Los Alamitos side of the field.
“I saw it from the sidelines, I was sure it was a touchdown,” said Los Alamitos coach John Barnes, whose team has lost five consecutive playoff games in the first round. “I just saw a picture of it and he was in. That’s the way it is.
“I’ve been to the finals seven times, the semifinals 13 times, it’s part of the deal. I don’t worry about that. You get to the playoffs and they’re all tough games. Sometimes a call here or a play there separates you.”
Actually, it looked as if Los Alamitos – with its bevy of big-play players – was going to score moments earlier. Nick Richardson busted through the line and ran 48 yards, the biggest play of the night for the Griffins. But Richardson’s big play was trumped by an even bigger one – Charles Washington caught him from behind at the 11 to keep him out of the end zone. That set up the late dramatics and controversy.
“I knew I had to catch him,” said Washington, a senior defensive back. “If I stopped him, we had another opportunity to line up and get the job done.”
They did get the job done. The Crespi defense stopped the gambling Griffins three of five times on fourth down, including the Crespi 24 and 33 yard lines.
Crespi was the more physical team and concentrated on stopping the run. Richardson finished 14 for 111 but did not score, and the Celts defense gave up 163 rushing. Richardson gets that many by himself against some opponents. Lagarde completed 10 of 19 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown to Kyle Roberts that, with a two-point pass to Roberts, tied the score at 14-14 with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
“It’s football. I’m not paid to be the official,” said Crespi coach Jon Mack. “There are a million plays I’d like to look at again, too. The officials officiate and we line up and play.”
And for Crespi, they will play against next week.