Written by Mark Tennis; Contributing: Ronnie Flores, Harold Abend
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As much as De La Salle head coach Bob Ladoucuer might not like it, most of the attention during the countdown to his team’s 48-28 victory on Saturday night over Centennial of Corona in the CIF Open Division state bowl game at The Home Depot Center was focused on himself.
Photographers clamored for position around him and the Time Warner broadcast had its cameras trained on him.
That focus is understandable considering Ladouceur’s accomplishments in 33 seasons on the Spartan sidelines. Still, it was the players who came through when they needed to, and they needed to in this game, as Centennial’s offense seemed never out of it and battled the legendary program from Concord well into the fourth quarter, at one point scoring on two straight fourth down plays to keep it close.
With the score at 42-28 midway through the fourth quarter, Centennial’s comeback hopes improved when Miquan Johnson recovered a fumble on the 43-yard line. The Huskies were not able to convert on a fourth down play, however, at the 48 and turned the ball back on downs.
With 3:30 left, De La Salle cemented its win on an interception by Allan Marion on the 21-yard line. Then with 47 seconds left, senior running back Tiapepe Vitale fought his way into the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game. Those were the final points of the night.
De La Salle captured its fourth straight CIF Open Division state title and improved to 5-2 in the seven years of the CIF state bowl games. Centennial notched one of those two wins with a 21-16 victory in the 2008 CIF Division I final and clearly played the Spartans tougher, especially on offense, than either Servite of Anaheim or Westlake of Westlake Village in the last two Open Division bowl games.
“I guess this one is special because I don’t know if I’ll be around yet next year,” said Ladouceur, who did show a bit more emotion than usual on the sidelines near the end of the game. “I’ll be coaching but I don’t know if I’ll be the head coach.”
In the rankings game, Ladoucuer’s club will be officially crowned Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year on Monday for the 16th time since 1992. It also is the first 15-0 record for the team and ties a Northern California record set in 2009 by Modesto Christian.“You can’t imagine how bad we wanted this game,” said Vitale, who was the choice for the Cal-Hi Sports Offensive Player of the Game with 26 carries for 145 yards to go with his four scores. “As for me personally, I knew what I had to do and came out ready and fed off the energy my team gave me. I pushed myself to go way harder than I have all season.”
Two special teams miscues, the second a fumbled snap on a punt, helped the Spartans score their first touchdown. They only needed 19 yards to score and got the points on a two-yard run by Vitale.
Following a second stop of Centennial’s offense, De La Salle continued to roll with a 61-yard, nine-play scoring drive. Although the series was helped by a 15-yard personal foul on the Huskies, the big play was a third-down, 24-yard pass from junior quarterback Chris Williams to Austin Lonestar that set up Vitale with a one-yard run.
After the teams traded turnovers, the Spartans came through with their biggest play of the first half in the second quarter when Vitale took a handoff and broke clear for a 46-yard touchdown.
The Spartans extended their lead to 28-0 (which at that point also gave them a 138-7 scoring advantage over 11 and a half quarters of the CIF bowls games since the second half of the 2009 game against Crenshaw of Los Angeles) with 3:32 left before halftime on a three-yard run by Williams.
Centennial finally got its act together on its final drive of the half, going 80 yards on 11 plays. Austin Renken set up the score with a 22-yard run to the two-yard line. Junior quarterback Robert Webber then sneaked it in on third down.
When asked how proud he was of his team for rallying after playing a tough game against previously unbeaten Narbonne of Harbor City last week in the regional bowl game, Centennial coach Matt Logan was quick to respond.
“Totally, they never gave up,” said Logan, whose 14-2 team also knocked off unbeaten Vista Murrieta of Murrieta and unbeaten Upland in its two games prior to playing Narbonne and will be No. 2 in the state in the final rankings. “They played their butts off tonight.”
Ladoucuer also had high praise for the Huskies.
“They’re tough, and no I don’t enjoy playing them, but when you get this far every team is tough,” he said. “We’ve played them three times and have never really been able to completely stop them so I’d have to say they’ve been the toughest opponent we’ve played here.”
Defensive Player of the Game:
Michael Hutchings (De La Salle, Concord) 6-3, 215, Sr.
The USC commit followed up an impressive outing against Folsom in the Northern California regional final by tying for the team lead in tackles with seven. He also batted away one pass and had the hit of the night de-cleating a Centennial player on a kickoff return.
Underclass Player of the Game:
Robert Webber (Centennial, Corona) 6-0, 170, Jr.
See, we continue to have no hard feelings toward Webber for that one pass two weeks ago the bounced off the right temple of this writer. He battled bravely against a very good defense and although he was only 19 of 43 he did get 308 yards and three touchdowns. For the season, Webber ended up with 3,968 yards and 41 touchdowns in the air. He’ll have stellar junior Barry Ware among those back next year, too.
Note: The two teams combined for uncharacteristic 12 fumbles (seven by Centennial and five by De La Salle). The Huskies lost three of those while the Spartans only lost one. De La Salle also will take a 26-game win streak into next season, which will be the longest in the state.
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