EL CENTRO — A rowdy, seasoned home crowd at Cal Jones Field welcomed the CIF Division III San Diego Section round one football playoff match-up between #12 seeded Mt. Carmel and the fifth seeded Spartans November 8, where Central out-gunned the Sundevils 46-38.
CUHS received the kickoff and strung together a 13-play, 70-yard opening offensive sequence that was sealed on a goal-line peek-a-boo by Angel Nava-Esparza which gave Central a 7-0 lead four minutes into the contest.
In the Sundevil’s first offensive outing, Mt. Carmel mixed up slant routes and screen passes to move the chains deep into Spartan territory. On fourth down, the Sundevils decided to go for it, but Jonathan Medina came up with a big hit, one yard shy of the first-down marker which forced a turnover on downs.
The Spartans capitalized on the forced turnover as Medina broke away from Central’s 10-yard line for 52 yards, which set up Nava-Esparza’s second ground and pound TD rush from short range.
Seconds into the second quarter, Mt. Carmel connected a TD reception delivery to get on board, 14-7 Central.
The Spartans responded with a 10-play drive that gobbled up 75-yards and was iced by another Nava-Esparza goal-line cruncher, which gave Central a 21-7 advantage with 8:17 to go before halftime.
After Central stopped the Sundevils and took over possession, Spartan QB Deniro Osuna showcased his long ball when he nailed WR Michael Sullivan on stride to a 69-yard side-line TD streak which put the home team up 28-7 with 5:30 left in the second quarter.
Unfazed by another unproductive offensive outing, Mt. Carmel pounced on a Central deflected pass and notched a defensive pick-six TD to cut the deficit to 28-14.
The Spartans capitalized on a two-minute drill to close out the opening half when Central Kicker Jose Berlin-Torres booted in a 42-yard field goal for the 31-14 intermission lead.
The Sundevils knocked in a long-range field goal of their own midway through the third quarter which kept Mt. Carmel in the game at 31-17.
With 4:29 left in the third quarter, a three-yard Nava-Esparza score appeared to put the mustard on the hotdog at 38-17 Central.
A quick Mt. Carmel TD link-up brought the score to 38-24 Spartans heading into the final period.
Just over two minutes into the fourth quarter, Nava-Esparza busted through a gaping hole and capped off his own TD with an added two point-conversion rush to push Central’s lead back up to 46-24.
Mt. Carmel did not shrink at adversity as the Sundevils went right back to work and hung up a quick TD to make it a 46-30 contest with 7:06 left to play.
After forcing a punt, Mt. Carmel followed up with an offensive drive that resulted in a late game TD plus two-point conversion, which made it a one-score game again at 38-46.
With only 1:07 remaining on the clock, the Sundevils went for an onside kick which was successfully recovered by Mt. Carmel.
At midfield on fourth and four, Nava-Esparza and Joseph Hargrave came through with a game-saving wrap up which forced Mt. Carmel to turn the ball over on downs. The Spartans knelt out the final ticks in victory formation of the 48-38 barnburner.
“Our kids are a very resilient team and we are used to grinding things out,” said Spartan head coach Davis Pena. “Our kids have grown accustomed to battling and answering the call.”
Central will have a chance at some 2017 redemption when the Spartans head back to San Diego to face the fourth seeded Cavers in the quarter finals of the CIF Division III San Diego Section playoff November 15 at 7 p.m.