As the fourth quarter rolled in Friday night at College of the Canyons, things looked bleak for Saugus.
Centurions starting quarterback Nathan Eldridge had just exited with an apparent right arm injury.
His backup, Elijah Gragas, threw an interception to West Ranch’s Ryan Camacho on his first pass attempt, with the Wildcats up six.
Gragas then turned the unpromising set of circumstances into one of Saugus’ finest moments of the season.
The senior powered his way in from four yards out with just over 4 minutes to play, leading Saugus to an 11-7 victory to hand West Ranch its first loss of the year.
“As long as there’s air in their lungs, they’re going to keep battling,” said Saugus coach Jason Bornn. “Football is a microcosm of life. It’s so easy at times to tap out when things aren’t going your way.
“That’s not this team.”
Saugus (4-3, 2-0 Foothill League) was lining up for a go-ahead 32-yard field goal prior to the go-ahead touchdown. But West Ranch was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after its nose guard simulated the snap, extending the drive.
Two plays later, Gragas provided the lead.
“When I threw the pick, I just put it behind me,” Gragas said. “I didn’t let it get to me because I knew we had a lot of time left. I just knew I had to step up with Nathan out.”
West Ranch (5-1, 1-1) got on the board midway through the third quarter on a 1-yard run from Camacho, giving the Wildcats an 11-5 lead.
The Cents’ only points had come off a blocked punt for a safety by James Sumpter on the first play of the second quarter and a 37-yard field goal from Tanner Brown.
“Really proud of the way our defense played,” said Wildcats coach Chris Varner. “They fought out there but it just wasn’t our night.”
Following Gragas’ score, West Ranch was halted on its own 45, turning it over on downs after a Weston Eget pass was broken up by Blake Adams.
Gragas and running back Quinn Sheaffer put the game away with two final first downs.
“(West Ranch) gave us everything they had,” said Sheaffer, who had 120 yards on 26 carries. “Things were really not going our way but our guys persevered and didn’t get down on themselves.”
Saugus collected 104 total yards in the first half while West Ranch was right behind with 103 yards.
The Wildcats marched into the red zone with less than 5 minutes to play in the opening half but a pick from Matthew Ballentine buried any thoughts of a first-half touchdown.
“We knew their defense was going to try and confuse us,” Varner said. “Hats off to them for executing.”