JSerra's Avery Williams leaps to take the ball to the 1-yard line as Orange Lutheran's Brandon McKinney pushes him out of bounds in the first quarter of a Trinity League game at Saddleback College.

JSerra beats Orange Lutheran in a thriller


MISSION VIEJO – As far as both JSerra and Orange Lutheran’s sidelines were concerned, their seasons came down to the final play of what was the last guaranteed game remaining on each of their schedules.

Because neither the Lions nor the Lancers had secured a guaranteed playoff spot before Friday night’s regular-season finale, the stage was set for what proved to be nothing short of an instant Trinity League classic.

Seventh-ranked JSerra scored 21 consecutive fourth-quarter points, but ultimately needed to bat down Lj Northington’s 28-yard heave into the end zone on the game’s final play to lock up a thrilling 45-40 victory over No. 3 Orange Lutheran in a Trinity League finale at Saddleback College.

With the win, JSerra (7-3, 2-3) forced a three-way tie for third place in league with the Lancers (5-5, 2-3) and Servite (4-6, 2-3), who lost to St. John Bosco on Friday. A coin flip held after the game determined that Orange Lutheran would go into the playoffs as the league’s No. 3 seed.

The Lions were named the fourth-place team, an ideal spot to be in for one of the Pac-5 Division’s two at-large berths, and the Friars came in at fifth.

“Extremely proud obviously, these games have always come down to the last play, last seconds and this was good for us to get this win,” JSerra coach Jim Hartigan said after the fourth-quarter dramatics. “We were down, had big plays were going against us, but we found a way to rally defensively in the second half and came up with some plays offensively.

“Everybody showed up in the second half. Kind of a slow start, but a strong finish.”

With the score tied 7-7 after the first quarter, the Lions and Lancers combined to score 37 points in a second quarter that saw four touchdowns of at least 50 yards. Orange Lutheran took a 27-24 edge to halftime and extended that to a 10-point lead early in the third quarter on Dominik Austin’s second rushing touchdown of the evening.

JSerra quarterback Riley O’Brien capped a 10-play, 94-yard drive early in the fourth quarter with a 16-yard strike to his brother, Conor, to cut the deficit to 34-31. Riley’s 5-yard touchdown run on the Lions’ next series reclaimed a 38-34 lead, and after the ensuing kickoff, Tristan West’s 23-yard scoop-and-score put an exclamation mark on a 21-0 fourth-quarter run with 3:53 to play.

Brandon McKinney’s 11-yard touchdown run put Orange Lutheran back into the game with 1:43 remaining, but a missed 2-point conversion meant the Lancers needed a touchdown to win.

After stopping JSerra on a fourth-and-one with 44 seconds left, the Lancers needed to drive 60 yards for a go-ahead score. Northington guided the offense down to the JSerra 28 with six ticks remaining, setting up the final incomplete pass.

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