LA JOLLA — Semifinal action in San Diego CIF Division III playoffs took the seventh seeded Brawley Union High Wildcats to La Jolla High Friday, November 22, to face the third seeded Vikings. The winner gets an invitation to the big dance in the Championship game.
The heavy underdog Wildcats scratched and clawed its way to dominate nearly the entire game, as it stunned opposing coaches, Vikings, and home team fans in all but two plays, totaling 25 seconds of the 108 plays in the contest. Those two plays were the first and the last.
Makai Smith took the opening kickoff for a 91-yard touchdown, the Vikings struck first and the score was 7-0 with only 15 seconds off the clock at 11:45.
Wildcats stumbled after reaching the 39-yard line of the Vikings but pinned La Jolla with a punt on their 12-yard line for bad field position.
The Vikings suffered two plays later as Wildcat Adrian Chavez forced a fumble for a Brawley possession at the 34-yard line. Brawley didn’t cash in on the drive but remained in good field position, forcing the Vikings to start at their 16-yard line for their drive.
Three plays later Wildcat JJ Fernandez snagged a pass from Viking quarterback Jackson Stratton (14-26 passing for 125 yards and one touchdown) returning it to the 15-yard line, looking to tie the game.
Brawley QB Ethan Gutierrez (12 carries for 68 yards and one touchdown) did just that with a signature fake to Blake Krigbaum (30 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown) that had teams guessing wrong all season. Gutierrez outraced the Viking defense for a 15-yard touchdown with 5:14 left in the first quarter. Xavier Perayda kicked the point after tying at 7-7.
Brawley’s defense limited the Viking offense to 251 yards (126 rushing and 125 passing) and kept them scoreless until the final play.
Adrian Chavez started the last drive of the first quarter with an 18-yard run, merging into the second quarter. As Brawley drove into Viking territory, it stumbled on an ineligible receiver downfield penalty and sizzled out at the 32-yard line. It was fourth down and Perayda lined up for a 49-yard field goal attempt. It fell short and the score remained knotted up at seven.
The Vikings were forced with a tough fourth-and-one at their 29-yard line. They gambled on the attempt, enticing the Wildcat front line to jump offside and gain a first down. The visiting Brawley fans became the 12th man on the field as they roared, causing confusion, a delay of game penalty, and a Viking punt.
Starting at their 32-yard line, the Wildcats found success moving the ball once again. Five of the next seven plays gained eight or more yards for huge chunks of real estate. As it got deeper into Viking territory, a sure first down turned into a stripped ball from the hands of Krigbaum and into a Vikings player for a costly turnover.
Brawley had the ball first in the second half at their 15-yard line after a huge kickoff return by Damian Reyes that would have given the Wildcats great field position, except for a penalty. The offense achieved one first down on the possession and then punted.
La Jolla’s special teams came up big on the punt, blocking it deep into Brawley territory with 9:10 left in the third quarter.
Only six yards of offense was yielded to the Vikings on the drive, as a Wildcat defense forced a turnover on downs after a fourth-and-four pass was incomplete.
With the ball on their 26, the Wildcat offense used up nearly eight minutes of the third quarter to drive to the Viking’s two-yard line, creating a fourth-and-goal at the two.
Facing a bad angle field goal, the Wildcats ran with Krigbaum but a Vikings defense prevented a lead change.
La Jolla’s possession on their two-yard line worsened as a penalty cut it in half to the one. With one play left in the quarter, a targeting penalty made it two with a non-timed play as the clock showed 0:00. Quarters cannot end on a defensive penalty.
Moving into the fourth quarter, the Vikings drove to the Brawley 17-yard line. Thirteen plays in, the sack of their quarterback had them at a fourth-and-14 yards for a first down. They attempted a 43-yard field goal but were nowhere close. The Wildcats’ defense kept it tied at 7-7 with 8:47 left in the game.
Brawley’s offense got a second wind and three straight plays of five yards each opened one the longest runs by Damian Reyes for the season. His 62 yards were three short of the first Wildcat game lead, as he was stopped short. Two plays later, Krigbaum was not denied the end zone as the Wildcats took the lead 14-7 with 5:54 left in the game after the Perayda point after kick.
The Vikings drive started at their 45-yard line, as 55 yards were separating them from a tie or lead. More success found them reaching the Wildcat’s 20-yard line, but Brawley forced a turnover on downs.
A couple of first downs and forcing La Jolla to use up the remainder of their timeouts was all that prevented the Wildcats from reaching the Championship game as 2:40 seconds remained.
The first play penalty had Brawley moved back to their 14 on a Krigbaum 12-yard run. Taking the clock down to 0:51, the Wildcats punted as they faced a fourth-and-six at their 24-yard line. The Vikings gained possession with 0:51 seconds left, and the dramatics began.
Three passes moved the ball 22 yards to the Wildcat 27, and all were taken out of bounds to stop the clock from running out of time. With 10 seconds of the game left, following two straight incomplete passes, Stratton found Max Smith for a completion who maneuvered his way into the end zone for the touchdown. It was 14-13 and the Wildcats still led with no time left in the clock.
A choice of going for the almost guaranteed extra point kick was put aside, as La Jolla chose to go for the two-point attempt and the win. QB Stratton completed the epic saga victory for the win to Luke Brunnett to give the Vikings a rematch against Scripps Ranch in the Championship game Saturday, November 30.
The heartbreak loss for the Wildcats brings a conclusion to the 2019 season. It was a season in which no one could have ever imagined, predicted, or dreamed of at the onset. It will be one of the most memorable in history and the epitome of why the dedication to the Brawley Blue and Gold is so strong. They gave it everything they had and left nothing on the field.