La Habra running back Hector Islas, right, stiff arms Foothill's Grant Gruber during aFriday's game between Foothill and La Habra at Tustin High School.

Foothill holds off late La Habra rally


TUSTIN – The right arm and the feet of Foothill senior quarterback Jack Gilchrist helped the Knights rally from a halftime deficit and earn a return trip to the semifinals of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs.

Gilchrist threw a touchdown pass and ran for two scores as the Knights held off a late fourth-quarter rally to defeat the La Habra Highlanders, 30-27, in a quarterfinal playoff game Friday at Tustin High.

"Our defense really picked it up in the second half and offense got going," Gilchrist said.

Foothill (10-2) will take on Edison on in the semifinals of the Southwest Division playoffs next Friday night. The Chargers defeated Valencia, 52-14, in their quarterfinal game at Valencia High.

With the loss, La Habra (8-4) fails to reach the semifinal round of the CIF playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Highlanders also saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end.

"This was a battle of two good football teams that left everything on the field," Knights coach Doug Case said.

"I told the kids at halftime to focus on what we do, and they played a great third quarter."

It was a fast start for the Highlanders, who needed only two plays to gain 73 yards to set up a first and goal at the Knights' 8-yard line. Two plays later, Highlanders running back Greg Gaines plowed into the end zone from 4 yards out.

Keyed by a 38-yard completion from Gilchrist to senior receiver Jullian Moss, the Knights cut the margin to 7-3 on a 24-yard field goal by senior Sean Pihl.

After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Knights took the lead on their next drive. After a 28-yard run by Pihl to set up first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Gilchrist slipped into the end zone on the next play to make it 10-7.

But La Habra had the answer on the next drive, taking a 13-10 lead on a 14-yard pass from senior quarterback Sean Sparling to senior wide receiver Luke Gomez. A fumbled exchange on the snap prevented an extra-point attempt.

Foothill's defense began to get pressure on Sparling, as seniors Andre Jones (3 sacks), Bobby Okereke (1 sack) and Brian Fox (1 sack) consistently beat the Highlanders' offensive lineman off the ball.

The Knights would re-capture the lead five plays into the second half, as Gilchrist lofted a pass down the middle Moss snared with a late lunge into the end zone. The 37-yard touchdown connection made it 17-13.

"The line had a perfect pocket for me, the running back had a great fake to help suck up the linebackers, and the safety bit on the underneath route," Gilchrist said.� � � �

Moss ended the night with eight receptions for 132 yards and the touchdown.

"They started to blitz a lot off the edge so we adjusted to their formations," Moss said. "On the touchdown reception, (the cornerback) drove to the outside and I drove inside and used my speed to out-run him."

Early in the fourth quarter, Gilchrist came up with his most impressive feat, slipping a tackle and racing into the end zone for 26-yard touchdown run and a 27-13 lead.

"I ended up making a nice move, and I was just telling myself to get as close to the goal line as I could," Gilchrist said. "Jullian (Moss) had a great block on the outside."

Gilchrist finished the night 16-for-25 passing for 199 yards. He was also the Knights leading rushers with 62 yards on 10 carries.

Pihl's 22-yard field goal (his third of the game) with 6:46 left in the fourth quarter extended the Knights lead to 30-13.

But La Habra narrowed the gap to 30-20 with 3:08 remaining, as Sparling raced into the end zone on an 11-yard run.

The Highlanders got the ball back on their own 1-yard line with just over 2 minutes remaining, and cut the lead to 30-27 with 27 seconds left in regulation on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Sparling to Gomez.

Sparling, who completed his first seven passes, ended the game 14-for-22 passing for 281 yards. Gomez caught five passes for 159 yards.

The ensuing Highlanders onside kick went out of bounds, ending La Habra's furious comeback bid.

"Foothill is good team, and the bottom line is that they put a couple of drives together in the second half and we got behind," Highlanders coach Frank Mazzotta said.

"Good teams make you pay for mistakes, and that's what they did."

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