TUSTIN - Foothill almost got caught overlooking Laguna Hills.
The fourth-seeded Knights, who beat Laguna Hills, 31-0, earlier this season, needed 10 points and some key turnovers in the fourth quarter to pull out a 17-7 victory in a rematch with the Hawks in the first round of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs on Thursday night at Tustin High.
"It's the playoff atmosphere," Foothill coach Doug case said, "you're either going to bring it or turn in your pads on Monday morning, so that always inspires the teams. First-round games are always tough because you're always thinking about your next opponent, you're not focused in. We played about as sloppy as this field is tonight. We gotta hand it to Laguna Hills. They played tough. The kids didn't quit and that's always important. We keep moving on. We just gotta get better."
Case said it's always tough to beat a team twice in the same season.
"There aren't any secrets anymore, so you gotta execute," Case said. "It's more mano-a-mano stuff. We put in some two-back stuff. We've been spread all season. We did some good things like that. We played pretty good. We didn't play great, but we played good enough to move on and that's what's important."
With the game knotted, 7-7, Foothill had two touchdowns called back because of penalties in the third quarter. Jack Gilchrist's shovel pass to Bobby Okereke on fourth-and-4 went for a 28-yard touchdown, but it was negated by holding and unsportsmanlike penalties. Jarrell Moss' 59-yard punt return for a touchdown got called back because of a personal foul.
Sam Stetson scored on a 34-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter. No penalties that time and the Knights had a 14-7 lead.
Laguna Hills responded with a 13-play drive that started at its own 21 and went down near the Knights end zone. Laguna Hills quarterback Kevin Cunningham used his legs to scramble for key runs to keep the drive going. The Hawks had a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, but they couldn't punch it in the end zone.
Cunningham got sacked on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line by Robert Forkey and Andre Jones. That brought up a fourth-and-goal from the 10. Cunningham tried to hit Will King in the end zone, but the pass was broken up by Moss.
Foothill fumbled moments later, but Moss' twin brother, Julian, picked off Cunningham and returned it 66 yards into Laguna Hills territory. That set up Sean Pihl's 27-yard field goal that gave the Knights a 17-7 cushion with 2:48 remaining.
Foothill (9-2) will play the Los Alamitos-La Habra next week in the quarterfinals. Laguna Hills, which won a share of the Sea View League title, finished 6-4.
Foothill and Laguna Hills slugged it out with their defenses in the first half.
Laguna Hills' Will Sedgwick recovered a Pihl fumble, his second of the game, at the Hawks' 31 with 3:54 left in the first quarter. Laguna Hills put together a 9-play, 69-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Kevin Cunningham's 35-yard run got the Hawks into Foothill territory and Cunningham capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Will King to give Laguna Hills a 7-0 advantage with 11:22 left in the half.
On the next play from scrimmage, Austin Roberts picked off Foothill quarterback Jack Gilchrist. But the Hawks were unable to advance the ball and punted back to Laguna Hills.
This time, the Knights were able to generate some offense. Foothill brought in Jarrell Moss, who usually plays wide receiver, to replace Pihl at running back and Moss was able to get the running game going.
The Knights moved the ball into Laguna Hills' territory before getting dinged for back-to-back penalties to bring up a first-and-20 situation. Gilchrist hit Bobby Okereke for a 34-yard gain down to the 19-yard line. Three plays later, Moss scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to complete an 11-play, 88-yard scoring drive and tie it, 7-7, with 4:48 left in the half.