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Villa Park needs late charge to get past Newport Harbor
ORANGE – Trailing by nine in the fourth quarter, Villa Park appeared headed for an exit out of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs.
That exit never came.
The Spartans (11-1) rallied with a pair of touchdowns, the last coming from Justin Mottram with a 1-yard dive, to escape with the 26-21 home victory over Newport Harbor in a second-round game at El Modena High.
The Spartans will face second-seeded Tustin in the semifinals Friday. The Sailors, who finished second in the Sunset League, end the season with a 7-5 record.
"This is our fifth or sixth game where we had to win in the fourth quarter," Villa Park coach Dusan Ancich said.
"I'm not saying we're good at it, but we've been in that situation a lot of times, and our team antes up when it counts.
"A lot of character ... we have a special group of guys that's not going to give up."
The Spartans trailed, 21-12, with 9:15 left.
"We needed something to pick everybody up," Villa Park's Meki Tafuna said.
Four plays later, Tafuna's 11-yard touchdown cut the score to 21-19.
After a three-and-out by Newport Harbor, Villa Park took over on the Newport Harbor 44. After a pair of big runs from Tafuna, Mottram dived in from the 1 for what turned into the winning score.
Newport Harbor had the ball one more time, but gained just 2 yards. Villa Park ran out the final 1:06 for the victory to send the Spartans toward another meeting with Tustin.
Villa Park and Tustin, former Century League rivals, have met in the playoffs the previous two seasons, with the Tillers winning both.
Tustin defeated Huntington Beach, 49-18, in a second-round game.
"Third year in a row playing over there," Ancich said of facing Tustin.
"We have to come to play ... we get to play (practice) on Thanksgiving, that's special."
Special was a way Ancich described Tafuna, one of his senior leaders. Tafuna finished with 110 yards on 23 carries with a pair of touchdowns.
"He's a guy you can't account for," Ancich said. "He's going to make one of those plays that you have everybody in position and he makes a couple of guys miss ... he's the real deal.
"He's one of those guys the more he plays, the better he gets."
Tafuna backed that up Friday as he played on both sides of the ball.
"I'm tired," he said. "I was expecting to play both ways."
Newport Harbor led, 14-6, at halftime despite running just 14 offensive plays compared with the 40 by Villa Park.