Los Alamitos' Dylan Ramirez intercepts a pass intended for Villa Park wide receiver Isaiah Williams deep in Los Alamitos territory Friday night. Los Alamitos prevailed, 19-14. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Los Alamitos escapes with win over Villa Park in a thriller


ORANGE – It was a season-saving turnover the Los Alamitos faithful will reminisce and rave over for years to come, and conversely, it was a ruling Villa Park’s players and coaches will go to the grave thinking the referees botched.

Trailing by five and facing a fourh-and-4 from the Los Al 11-yard line with 1:30 remaining, Spartans quarterback Nick Sipe hit Matt Roach in stride over the middle of the field for a first down, but when the senior wide receiver made a lunging effort for the goal line, he lost the football and the Griffins proceeded to recover.

While the Villa Park sideline believed Roach’s knee was down at the 1, the referees ruled it was a fumble scooped up by Los Alamitos, securing the Griffins’ wild 19-14 win over the Spartans in a CIF-SS Division 3 first-round playoff game Friday night at El Modena High.

In winning only its second playoff game since the 2004 season, Los Al (8-3) advances to play Palos Verdes (7-4) next week in the second round.

“Unbelievable,” said Griffins first-year coach Ray Fenton, fielding countless hugs from players, coaches and loved ones just moments after the game. “So proud to be a Griffin and of our kids, especially our defense for reaching down. When times were bad, they kept reaching and playing.”

The Griffins defense forced three turnovers, intercepting Sipe twice in the end zone, and adding the late fumble recovery near the goal line to seal an epic battle.

The Spartans (9-2) produced zero points in six red-zone trips. In addition to the three costly turnovers, Villa Park missed a first-quarter field goal, and had a pair of field-goal attempts in the third quarter blocked by Joey Noble and Mike Magana.

Magana and Dylan Ramirez each had an interception, too. 

“It’s resilience and it’s a commitment and belief in each other,” Fenton said. “So proud that they continued to play hard and not point the finger at each other. Instead, they said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make a play.’ And they did.”

Magana finished with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. He also intercepted a pass, blocked a field goal, and connected with Zach Ruiz on a crucial 37-yard pass on a trick play that set up Los Al’s go-ahead touchdown with 4:43 to play in the fourth quarter.

Villa Park’s final possession started on its own 18, and the Spartans marched down to the Los Al 11 in seven plays. Their eighth play of the drive proved to be the final snap of the season, and even after receiving the explanation, Spartans coach Dusan Ancich was convinced Roach’s knee was down.

“It’s going to hurt for a long time,” he said. “It’s like a funeral. How do you recover from that as a teenager? That call changed the whole season.

“There were a couple game-changing, season-ending penalties. I’m not a guy that complains, but you don’t end the year on that.”

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