Before Hart even kicked off Friday night, it was minus Da’Von Jones, the savior in the team’s last-minute victory over Golden Valley the previous week.
On just the second play of the night, the Indians lost another key weapon in DJ Palmer, who exited with an injury after a reception.
With the injuries mounting, Hart used every weapon in its possession to come away with a 22-14 win over Saugus at College of the Canyons, sealing a second-place Foothill League finish.
“We were missing a lot of parts and that really hurt and messed with our game plan,” said Ben Rosen, whose 12-yard touchdown run on the second play of the fourth quarter was the deciding score. “All the guys lower on the depth chart and on the scout team got an opportunity tonight and made the most of it.”
Saugus, which clinched the third-place playoff spot in the Foothill League, drove to its own 43 before a Nathan Eldridge pass fell incomplete with time expired.
Eldridge, who returned from injury after a two-week hiatus, found Keith Booker for a 14-yard touchdown with 3:44 remaining to bring Saugus within one possession. Reid Huseman forced a fumble on Hart quarterback JT Shrout to create the possession. But C.J. McMullen tallied one of his three sacks on the night to help drain the clock as the Centurions started their final drive with just 46 seconds left in the game.
“Our first goal was to stop the run and get inside, and make them throw, because we have a good pass rush,” said McMullen, who also had two tackles for a loss. “We knew this was an important one for the playoffs and we all had to pitch in with all the injuries.”
Indians senior defensive back Josh Clark also exited with an injury in the third quarter.
Hart (7-3, 4-1 Foothill League) held a 9-7 lead after the first half, which included three missed field goals, a safety, a blocked punt and three interceptions between the two teams. The Indian struck first on the safety after an Aaron Rodriquez punt pinned the Cents inside their own 1-yard line. Thomas Bambrick was the first of three Hart defenders to meet Quinn Sheaffer in his own end zone.
Shrout led the Indians into the end zone for the first time with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Montes early in the second quarter. Shrout also connected with Ryan Schuman for a 36-yard touchdown to put Hart up 16-7 midway through the third quarter. Minus his top two receivers, Shrout completed 15 of 30 passes with a pair of interceptions to go with the two touchdowns. Montes led the team with 10 catches for 106 yards.
Eldridge provided Saugus’ (4-6, 2-3) lone first-half points with a 13-yard scramble late in the second quarter. He led the Centurions with 70 yards on 23 carries. Sheaffer was held to 35 yards on 13 carries.
Both teams await their respective playoff seeds, which will be released at 9 a.m. on Sunday, with Hart competing in CIF-Southern Section Division 2 and Saugus in Division 6.