SAN DIEGO — Quarterfinal’s playoff action for San Diego CIF Football had the seventh seeded Brawley Union High Wildcats traveling to San Diego County for the first time this season, where they faced the favored second seeded Hilltop High Lancers. One week after a comeback win from a 28-7 deficit, the Wildcats jumped ahead early in the game and maintained a lead for most of the contest. In the final period, the Lancers tied the game at 31 and set up one of the most spectacular endings in Brawley football history.
Hilltop was on the positive side of every aspect in game stats, including total plays (86-43), total yards (458-385), first downs (28-12), less penalty yards (60-135), and almost even in time of possession. After the tie, Wildcats fans saw their lead and tie disappear as they watched Hilltop take their only lead on a safety midway through the final quarter to go down 33-31.
Brawley deferred the opening kickoff to Hilltop. Both teams exchanged punts after their first three plays that would not produce first downs. The Wildcats had the possession near midfield, compared to the Lancers’ starting inside their 20-yard line.
In Brawley’s second possession, their defense produced a three and out (punt) by Hilltop. This possession gave the Wildcats their first lead, held until the first play of the fourth quarter. A give to Krigbaum was a fake. Fans focused on Ethan Gutierrez, breaking a couple ankles en route. It was 40 of his 102 yards rushing in seven attempts. Going in untouched, Brawley struck first and led 7-0 with 7:30 left in the first quarter, after the successful point after kick by Xavier Pereyda. Pereyda was 4-4 in extra points and 2-2 in field goals for 10 points in the game.
The Lancers had 78 yards in front of them after the kickoff by Brawley on their next possession. Hilltop’s cylinders began to strike in sequence as they methodically moved the ball as they had done all season. Using six minutes of the game clock on 16 plays, the Lancers scoring threat reached a first and goal at the Wildcats’ nine-yard line. The defense tightened up for Brawley and Hilltop got one yard in four plays. The Lancers failed on fourth and goal, giving the Wildcats possession on their eight-yard line.
After a three-yard run, Krigbaum rounded the outside corner toward and along the Brawley sideline for an 89-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 first quarter lead.
Hilltop was in a 14-point deficit for the first time since down 16 in their only loss against Morse High. Their offense began showing even more success as Jeremiah Serrano (22 carries for 135 yards and three touchdowns) and quarterback Javin Deanda (19-34 for 218 yards) began clicking positive yardage. A seven-play drive was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown run by Serrano. The Lancers tried for two points instead of the one point after kick. Andrew Velazquez set up in the quarterback position in shotgun formation and barreled in for the successful attempt. Those two points could have been detrimental to the outcome of the game since it was not a legal formation, according to San Diego CIF new rules. The Wildcats lead was 14-8 and 10:37 remained until halftime.
A kickoff return by Damian Reyes was negated on a penalty, starting them at their own seven-yard line.
With 93 yards from scoring, it would not be an obstacle on this drive as the offensive motors were pushing on all 11 cylinders. Two big plays were a Gutierrez run of 35 yards that was followed by a 42-yard Krigbaum run. On the fifth play of the drive, Krigbaum had his second touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 21-8 lead with 7:01 left in the half.
The Lancers next drive began at their 41-yard line and they countered the scoring with their own five-play drive. A 22-yard pass was aided with a 15-yard penalty for a 37-yard total. Serrano ran for his second touchdown of the game from two yards out. Velazquez lined up in the quarterback position again. This time, he would fake the run up the middle then pass toward the goal post, but the two-point pass attempt failed on an incompletion. The score was 21-14 with 5:37 left in the first half.
A short kick was almost mishandled by the Wildcats on the following kickoff, but Reyes gave Brawley good field position at their 38-yard line. This drive would take seven plays and some yellow flags. Moving the ball with positive yardage, a first and ten penalty moved the ball from the Hilltop 25 to the 40-yard line. A quarterback sack to near midfield didn’t help the drive with the ’Cats facing a third and 26 at the Hilltop 49-yard line. Gutierrez managed to break into open field. Three jukes later, he was in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game and a 28–14 lead with 1:58 left in the half.
The Lancers were a primarily passing team. Almost two minutes and two timeouts were enough time to score and cut the lead in half. Hilltop executed 12 plays and reached the Brawley 22-yard line. An offensive penalty was called on Lancers, in which a touchdown pass was caught, but the penalty prevented six points from being scored. It was an unsportsmanlike personal foul penalty during the play, and one untimed play from the 37-yard line followed. It was an incomplete pass and the halftime score remained 28-14 with the Wildcats ahead.
The much needed 15-minute rest let both teams regroup, rest, and adjust as Brawley would get the ball first. The kickoff was a pooch kick, high and short, but allowed it to bounce to the six-yard line where Damian Reyes corrected his mistake and raced for nearly 70 yards on the return to the Lancer 25-yard line. The Krigbaum and Gutierrez combo would not work for another touchdown. A fourth and three at the Hilltop seven was made longer on a Brawley penalty. A decision to attempt a 29-yard field goal proved to be correct, as Pereyda split the uprights and three more points were scored. With 9:44 left in the third quarter, the lead was 31-14.
The second half was a combination of the Hilltop offense and defense on the positive side of momentum. Allowing only three points instead of touchdown, the offense responded with a five-play drive of which Marko Aki (eight receptions for 119 yards) had a big catch of 25 yards. Serrano put the rock into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown run and it was 31-21, with less than a minute taken off the clock and 8:44 remaining in the third quarter.
The Lancers forced a three and out for the Wildcats and received its second possession at their 40-yard line. The Hilltop offense caught fire when seven plays and 60 yards later, Marcos Leyva made the score a three-point differential. With 4:43 left in the third quarter, the lead was 31-28 for Brawley.
Hilltop got possession seven plays later, but now had the opportunity to take the lead. A Brawley punt with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter had the Lancers 62 yards from the lead. Two plays ended the third quarter, and eight plays into the fourth quarter the Lancers were on the Brawley six-yard line. A fourth and six situation, similar to the one earlier in the game, prompted a 23-yard field goal attempt. Alec Gonzalez tied the game up at 31 with 8:21 left in the game.
Having only scored three points so far in the second half, loyal Wildcats fans saw their lead get sacked in the end zone for a safety. The Hilltop Lancers defense scored two points and lifted them to a 33-31 lead with 6:30 left in the game. The Wildcats kicked the ball to Hilltop after the safety.
The kick from the Brawley 20-yard line gave Hilltop that extra cushion. It would be the Wildcats defense shining on this next possession as it allowed only one first down. They put a stop of a fourth and one attempt to give the Wildcats the ball, giving them a chance to regain the lead.
Starting at their 36-yard line Reyes, Krigbaum, and Adrian Chavez had huge runs in the first three plays, 16, 9, and 22 respectively. The Wildcats reached the Hilltop 11-yard line, followed by a Krigbaum run to the eight-yard line. On the play, a holding penalty took the ball back to the 20-yard line. An incomplete on the next play made it fourth down and 13 from the Hilltop 20-yard line. With no timeouts left in the half, Brawley went for a 37-yard field goal attempt for the lead. Hilltop coaching staff tried calling their last timeout before the snap of the ball could be made, but it was not seen or heard in time for officials to blow the whistle and stop play. The snap, the hold, and the kick were good enough for Xavier Pereyda to give his team the lead once again. The ball went through the uprights, the referees put both hands straight up for the good signal, and a roar from the Wildcats crowd exploded. Brawley was ahead 34-33 with 1:32 left in the game and one last possession to win the game.
Starting at their 37-yard line, a run of 13 yards on third and three gave the Lancers momentum. A sack by the Brawley defense on a third and eight, a few plays later proved costly as a personal foul penalty play was called on the defense for a Lancer first down. Hilltop was able to get five more plays with less than a minute on the clock. Finally, with two seconds remaining, it was up to the kicker who made a 27-yard field goal earlier. This attempt had the ball placement at the 18-yard line for the 28-yard attempt. The ball sailed wide left and the Brawley crowd erupted even louder with the Wildcats’ victory.
The Brawley Wildcats now advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2014 and travel to La Jolla High School, where the Vikings are the third seeded team who beat Mater Dei High Friday. This will be their sixth semifinal appearance where the others were 2001-2004-2005-2012-2014. This is their first appearance in the semifinals without winning IVL Title since they did it in 1981, when they were still the DVL. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. Friday, November 22, at La Jolla High School.