HACIENDA HEIGHTS — It all happened so fast.
One second a controversial muffed punt was setting up Los Altos High’s score-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Then, moments later, Paraclete of Lancaster quarterback Tooni Ikahihifo was streaking down the middle of the field and fumbling into the end zone from the Los Altos 1-yard line.
Teammate Chris Ramirez hopped on it for the game-winning score in a 21-14 victory Friday at Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights, securing the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 crown for the Spirits and their head coach, Dean Herrington, a former Hart High offensive coordinator.
“What a crazy game,” Herrington said.
What a crazy year.
After winning seven league crowns in 10 seasons as head coach at Alemany, Herrington was fired in January because the school’s principal wanted to take the program in a different direction.
Herrington called the move “shocking” at the time.
Eleven months later it was his new squad shocking a packed-out Los Altos crowd expecting its No. 1-seeded Conquerors (13-1) to remain unbeaten.
The fans’ hope was revived late in the fourth quarter.
Paraclete (10-4) had taken a 14-7 lead at the 7:47 mark in the fourth and forced a three-and-out on Los Altos’ next drive.
But on the ensuing punt, the ball appeared to hit a Conqueror player as he closed in on Paraclete’s returner (contact between the players may also have been made).
The ball bounced down to the Paraclete 12 where it was recovered by Los Altos and ruled a muffed punt.
Two plays later, Los Altos’ Tyler Nevens ran in for a 1-yard touchdown to bring the score to 14-14 with under five minutes to play.
The Spirits, though, went 80 yards in two minutes, Ikahihifo’s 27-yard run and fumble and the Ramirez recovery providing the knockout blow.
“I was so happy. I was mostly thankful to God,” Ikahihifo said.
He also said he was thankful to have Herrington, a noted QB guru, at Paraclete.
Herrington was the offensive coordinator for Hart from 1989 to 2000, winning four CIF crowns along the way.
He coached one CIF final as Alemany’s head coach in 2009, but lost.
At Paraclete this year, Herrington has served as head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. The last role may have been most crucial Friday.
Paraclete recorded seven sacks in the game (the last of which coming on Los Altos’ final offensive play), and held the Conquerors to 81 total yards in the first half.
The Spirits led 7-0 at the break.
But Nevens tied the score late in the third on a 2-yard run.
He carried the ball 25 times for 121 yards in the game.
The Spirits played man coverage throughout the game, selling out to contain Nevens, who had rushed for more than 200 yards in two straight games.
Nevens appeared to have a touchdown in the third quarter, but he fumbled just short of the goal line, the ball rolling out of the end zone for a touchback.
Paraclete turned the ball over four times, and Herrington said afterward that the Spirits were fortunate to come away with a win and the ninth CIF title in school history.
“When I was at Hart, we had one close CIF game in ’95 against (Antelope Valley),” Herrington said. “That was probably the most emotional one (I’ve been a part of) until this one.”