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MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
La Habra's Eric Lancaster-Garcia comes down with the game-winning catch on a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left on the clock in Friday's game against Los Alamitos at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.

La Habra's dream comes true against Los Alamitos

STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH – It was a moment scripted in Eric Barriere’s dreams and it came true in dramatic fashion Friday night, sending La Habra into a CIF championship-worthy celebration in September.

And who could blame the No. 8 Highlanders after the stunning finish to their nonleague game against No. 7 Los Alamitos at Veterans Stadium.

Barriere threw a 44-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game to wide receiver Eric Lancaster-Garcia to lift La Habra to a 37-32 victory.

In typical Barriere fashion, he scrambled across the field to his left on the play, then hoisted a half-the-field pass toward the opposite front, corner of the end zone to Lancaster-Garcia, who caught the ball cleanly in a crowd of about five players just outside the end zone and surged in for score.

La Habra (3-1) stormed Lancaster-Garcia in the end zone in a wild celebration.

“I dream of feeling like this, a game like this,” said Barriere, whose TD pass came out of a timeout with two seconds left. “Before the play, I just felt confident. I knew we were going to win this game.

“This is my first (Hail Mary). Finally doing one is pretty crazy.”

Barriere’s heroics capped a back-and-forth second half. Los Alamitos (2-1) took a 32-31 lead with 47 seconds left as Randall Gonzalez scored on a 11-yard touchdown run – on his only carry – and tight end Drew Platt caught a 2-point conversion pass from quarterback Jack Telenko.

The Highlanders started the ensuing drive at their 19. Despite a sack on first down by Joey Noble and a near-interception on second down by Alex Yoffe, Barriere completed two passes to reach the Griffins 44 with two seconds left.

“Very overwhelmed,” said Lancaster-Garcia, who hugged a reporter afterward. “I just did what I was coached to do. I went up for the ball. No regrets. Came down with it. … I didn’t catch any other ball but I came down with it when it counted.”

La Habra led, 24-7, at halftime, passing up a short field goal attempt to take an unsuccessful shot at the end zone.

Los Alamitos surged in the second half behind its defense, Telenko and running back Schuyler Whitehead.

Whitehead scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 14 yards in the third quarter, the latter coming off a fourth-and-1 stand by the Griffins at midfield. The first run capped a 90-yard drive that included a fourth-and-1 conversion by Whitehead from his 41.

Early in the fourth, Whitehead knocked Barriere out of the game for one play, which La Habra fumbled away at its 45.

Los Alamitos drove for a 25-yard field goal by Jacob Gasser with 7:38 left in the fourth, tying the score, 24-24.

Penalties were costly for the Griffins. On the drive, Whitehead had a touchdown run negated by a holding call.

Los Alamitos finished with 13 penalties for 114 yards, including a controversial offensive spearing penalty in the fourth.

La Habra flexed its ground muscle on the ensuing possession, driving from its 8 for a 12-yard TD run by Madison Wheeler with 4:50 left in the fourth. The extra-point by Holden Remme gave La Habra a 31-24 lead.

The drive also included a late hit against Los Alamitos and a bruising run by Jake Colacion.

But the Highlanders still had to push to the final play to beat the Griffins and show what they learned from a loss against Mission Viejo.

“It just shows how tough we are, especially from last week (against Mission Viejo),” Barriere said. “I felt we should have won that game.”

Before Friday's game, La Habra coach Frank Mazzotta talked about the lessons from a 24-14 loss against the Diablos, "You can't leave the door open against good teams."

Barriere slammed the door against the Griffins on the final play but he also ran for two touchdowns in the first half and threw another. He finished with 80 yards rushing and 235 passing.

His two rushing touchdowns were separated by about two minutes in the second quarter. The second one came after an interception by cornerback Michael Walters at the 50 as the Griffins mixed up a pass route. Two plays later at the Griffins 44, Barriere ran right on an option, faked a pitch to juke Whitehead and burst into the secondary. He broke a tackle at the 25 and raced into the end zone for 21-7 lead.

Later in a second quarter, a sack by Matthew Gonzales helped derail another Los Alamitos drive. Wheeler then returned a punt 25 yards to the Los Alamitos 28, setting up a 26-yard field goal by Remme for a 24-7 lead with 4:24 left in the half.

La Habra's defense held Los Alamitos to 85 yards passing and 33 yards rushing. Cornerback Khailand Johnson also added a first-half interception.

But the Griffins flipped their script in the second half. Telenko passed for 202 of his 287 yards while Whitehead rushed for 59 of his 81 yards. They also played the second half without the injured Darien Cornay and lost Whitehead to an injury with 2:05 left on a run play. Whitehead also plays defense.

"I'm proud of how our kids played," Los Alamitos coach John Barnes said in a phone interview after the game. "We have to learn from it and go on."

That's the path La Habra took a week ago and it ended with a dream finish Friday.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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