LONG BEACH — Needing a two-point conversion to tie the score and wanting to catch Wilson High of Long Beach off guard, Saugus High hurried to the line and snapped the ball with an urgency it possessed for most of the second half.
Centurion Amir Bishop had returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to seize momentum from Wilson High of Long Beach.
The Cents had covered 81 yards in 26 seconds to score late in the fourth quarter, recovered an onside kick and scored again with nine seconds left in regulation.
But they still needed two.
So Saugus used a quick-hitting pass play on the two-point try, but the timing was off. The slant pass sailed incomplete.
The Centurions battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit to fall, 25-23, at Wilson High on Friday night in a CIF-Southern Section Division 6 quarterfinal.
A large Saugus crowd applauded the effort.
MORE football: Valencia triumphs over Arroyo Grande
“We played our hearts out and there’s nothing we could do,” said Saugus corner Coleman Vanderhorst, who added to his program single-season interception record, picking off his eighth pass of the year in the first half.
More importantly, he secured the ball on Saugus’ onside-kick attempt with three minutes left in the game.
Down by eight, the Centurions (9-3) drove the ball to the Wilson 2, where they faced a fourth and goal.
Saugus quarterback Nathan Eldridge lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone, finding Daniel Gilmartin for a touchdown.
But the excitement was short-lived.
The two-point try was unsuccessful. A second onside kick was, too.
But the final score didn’t cause Saugus coach Jason Bornn to secondguess the final playcall.
“It’s a play we practice all the time. We just didn’t execute it,” said Bornn, whose team beat Crescenta Valley on the road in the first round, 38-29.
Saugus’ offense wasn’t as sharp Friday.
The Centurions tallied 86 yards of offense in the first half, with two drives stalling in Wilson territory.
Saugus’ defense and special teams kept the score close with Vanderhorst’s interception late in the first quarter and Centurion Noah Turner’s block of a 28-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter.
MORE football: Grizzlies continue historic playoff run
Saugus couldn’t, however, stop running back Jacobi Hardy. At all.
Hardy ran for 288 yards on 34 carries. He scored three touchdowns, the first a weaving 68-yarder to give Wilson a 12-0 advantage at the half.
Hardy straight-lined for a 38-yard TD late in the third quarter to negate the momentum built on Bishop’s 89-yard kickoff return.
The nail in the coffin seemed to be Hardy’s 24-yard TD with 3:53 left in the game, making it 25-10. But then Saugus went to work.
Eldridge connected with a wide-open Gary Bojorquez on a 61-yard pass play, and the two hooked up again for an 11-yard TD with 3:21 left in the game.
“I think everything was working. We just weren’t finishing and executing when we needed to,” said Eldridge, who completed 19-of-37 passes for 204 yards on the night.