When the Game Stands Tall

December 27, 2013
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The state of California held state title games in football until 1927, when it abruptly stopped having them played.  Thus, for nearly eighty years, there would be football games but no way of telling what team in California was the best (unlike the other 49 states).  Finally, in 2005, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) created a series of bowl competitions designed to fix this problem.  Starting with three games (later expanding to five), the best from the northern part of the state would play the best from the south for a de-facto state title.

In the eight years since the Bowl Championships have been held, the De La Salle Spartans have been a part of every one of them, earning five titles in the process and four in a row.  As the concluding match to this year’s slate of contests, they would face their sternest challenge all season—the Braves from St. John Bosco.  Both teams were ranked in the top 5 nationally and had quite prolific offenses, so there was considerable excitement leading up to the kickoff.

The Spartans, on the opening kickoff, suffered a devastating setback to their gameplan as one of their featured running backs, Antoine Custer, was hurt and did not see action for the remainder of the game.  This caused the offense to be focused solely through John Velasco, the other running back who came into the game three yards shy of 2,000 on the season, with Andrew Hernandez gamely taking Custer’s place. 

It wasn’t the same.  Velasco showed flashes of his normal brilliance, but in the moments when the Braves stopped him, quarterback Chris Williams wasn’t able to reliably get the team down the field.  Small mistakes, such as a backwards lateral, almost became disastrous.  Perhaps Williams was trying to do too much by himself on one play, as he, while being tackled and falling down, threw a pass that was intercepted, giving the Braves excellent field position that would later lead to a touchdown.

On the other hand, the Braves looked every bit the part of a team from the University of Wisconsin that put on high school uniforms and helmets.  St. John Bosco’s offense looked, at times, like the only team that could stop it was St. John Bosco (and ironically, this happened in the third quarter, when five holding penalties on one drive [including a 60-yard TD run called back] destroyed a game-icing march down the field).

Despite all the miscues, injuries, and turnovers, De La Salle found themselves down 17-7 entering the fourth quarter.  After St. John Bosco added a field goal to make it 20-7, Williams decided to ditch the running game and start throwing the ball.  A catch here, a catch there, and then Marquis Morris found himself in the end zone with the ball after catching a 51-yard TD pass.  It was now 20-14 St. John Bosco with 6:27 left to play.

Suddenly, the Spartans of old showed up and gave a perfect effort for three downs.  Bosco’s venerated run game was completely stymied while their quarterback was sacked once.  After a punt, De La Salle had a chance to win the championship outright.  One first down got the team to the Bosco 30-yard line, but the Braves suddenly began to show some defense of their own, stopping De La Salle twice. 

It all came to fourth down, where Williams threw a screen pass to his left.  It didn’t make it over the outstretched arms of Braves defender Gavin Windes, however, and was intercepted.  A little over two minutes remained, but the Spartans didn’t have enough time outs left to get the ball back unless they had another immediate stop.  For two plays, they held.  The third play was not so fortunate, as quarterback Josh Rosen snuck through the line and ran for 37 yards, allowing the Braves to run out the clock and win their first ever CIF title.

Said Coach Alumbaugh after the game, “We had a shot to win . . . We came back – we fought back. I’m really proud of our guys. We showed good effort. We just didn’t play well enough to win. They just played better than we did.”


I can imagine how disappointing a loss it was for the Spartans—particularly the Seniors on the team.  All those long hours in the gym, the mornings on the practice field pushing tires, the bumps and bruises that never seemed to go away after a game was over—was it worth it? 

I would hope, to a man, they would all say that it was.  Because, in the end, there were life lessons learned along the way that these gentlemen will take with them wherever they go, whether it’s the NFL, the corporate boardroom, the marketplace, the church, the family, or perhaps all of these. 

Coach Alumbaugh has these guys headed in the right direction, and I’m excited to see where the Spartan program goes from here.  And who knows—there may be a DLS/St. John Bosco rematch sooner than you think! 

I leave you with words from Coach Lad:

Some of the best lessons we learn in life are through adversity and disappointment. At least that’s how it’s been in my life. You don’t have to be crossing the goal line all the time to learn and feel value, especially to learn about yourself. The most I learned about myself is when things were falling apart.  So when you guys talk about your season not working out the way you wanted it to . . . look for the lesson in it.  How do you grow from that? That’s when you become a real man.

Final Score: De La Salle 14, St. John Bosco 20 (the 40-game win streak is snapped)
Season Record: 15-1

Final National Ranking: 6 (MaxPreps); 13 (USA Today)

(credit to MaxPreps and Prep2Prep for game info)
Book quote was from
When the Game Stands Tall by Neil Hayes, 2005, Frog Books, Berkeley CA

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My goal is to provide you, the reader, with articles that both challenge and inspire you to consider who God is and the role He plays in a person's life. For me, meshing the faith with our culture is an important and immensely rewarding adventure. I currently live in Bakersfield CA with my wife and three daughters. Join me on Twitter @nomoreblackeyes

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