The Malibu High Sharks football team scored 26 unanswered points in the final 16 minutes of play in a dramatic come-from-behind victory to defeat the Santa Clara Saints 50-41 on Friday night under the new lights at MHS.
The win secured a second place finish in the Frontier League for Malibu and extends their season into the CIF playoffs, which begin next week.
“So much heart, so much heart, I’ve never seen anything like it. With everything on the line, these guys came through,” Head Coach Ray Humphrey said after game.
The Saints brought a balanced run-and-pass attack to challenge the pass-oriented Sharks.
“They came at us strong with the run, and then opened up with passing game. Who knew we would end the game with over 90 points? What a battle,” Humphrey said.
The Sharks opened the scoring on their first touch of the ball barely 90 seconds into the game with a Brennan Cassone 85-yard punt return.
On the subsequent possession the Saints’ strong ground attack clicked and they drove the field to tie the score 7-7.
The Sharks responded with their own potent passing game, and took the lead on an Apollo Loomis field goal at the close of the first quarter, Sharks 10 - Saints 7.
The fireworks continued in the first play of the second quarter with a 53-yard half-back pass that put the Saints ahead 13-7.
The Sharks responded immediately with a long drive as QB Chase Gardella found receiver Dylan Miller for the first of Miller’s two touchdowns. The Sharks took the lead again 17-13, but it would be the last lead the Sharks would have until the closing minutes of the game.
The end of the first half was all about the Santa Clara. Penalties on the Sharks defense kept the Saints next scoring drive alive. A Sharks turnover gave the Saints a short field and another TD. At halftime, the momentum was clearly with the Saints who led 27-17.
The Sharks came out strong in the third quarter with a sustained drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown scamper by Matt Vincent.
Santa Clara answered with their own TD minutes later, and after a successful onside kick, quickly capitalized on the short field with their second score in 41 seconds.
Midway through the third quarter, the outlook for the Sharks was bleak as they found themselves down three scores 41-24.
Gardella took charge efficiently connecting with his favorite target Cassone on several quick hitting passes. Then Dylan Miller pulled in his second score of the game with a nifty run-after-catch from the 9-yard line.
Following three-and-out, the Saints set up to punt. Defensive end Nick Carlson charged through the Saints line and blocked the kick giving the Sharks a short field at the 35-yard line. Gardella found Cassone for a 35-yard TD Malibu was back in the game.
On the subsequent Saints possession, nose guard Eddie Johnstone pounced on a Saints fumble at the 43, giving the Sharks another short field. As time ran out in the third quarter, the Sharks had the momentum, but still trailed 41-37.
“It’s our pattern... they hit us hard, and we make adjustments,” Humphrey said. “It may take us some time, and we may have to dig ourselves out of hole, but our guys don’t stop. They figure it out and get the job done.”
Malibu could not capitalized on its next possessions, turning the ball over on a fumble and having another drive stall at the 31-yard line. With just under 6 minutes in the game the Sharks were running out of chances.
The never-say-die Sharks came up with another defensive stand and took over the ball at their own 33-yard line.
Gardella quickly connected with Cassone on a 51-yard pass down to the Saints 18-yard line. Two plays later, Gardella called his own number scrambling in from the 16-yard line as Malibu regained the lead, 44-41 with 3:41 to play.
The Saints subsequent possession was soon foiled by a fumble scooped up by Cassone who returned the ball to the Saints 19-yard line. Vincent capped off the scoring, rumbling in from the 14, stunning Santa Clara and sealing the victory for the Sharks, 51-41.
“It was a team effort in every way. We had guys stepping up and making plays on both sides of the ball,” Coach Humphrey said. “(Linebacker) Alex Stevenson stepped into the middle and played well, Thumb (running back Matt Vincent) was running his butt off, and the line gave Chase (Gardella) the time he needed. Of course Brennan (Cassone) had a great game in every way... catching, running, on defense, on special teams.”
Before the game, the Sharks honored their senior players, cheerleaders and dance team members.
In the pre-game ceremony the seniors processed with their families from the end zone to the 50-yard line through a gauntlet of teammates and coaches.
The senior football players include Nick Carlson, Brennan Cassone, Braidon Hanes, Eddie Johnstone, Jordan Klarenbeck, Apollo Loomis, Alden Quartz, and Taurino Ruiz.
Senior cheerleaders are Jessica Murray, Eden Concoff, Yasi Afsharnive, Kanaya Rhea. And the senior dance team members are Ysi Bravo, Mia Nunez, Nicki Cunningham.
The Sharks conclude their regular season with a 7-3 record overall, 3-1 in league. They will travel to Temecula to take on Linfield Christian in the first round of CIF playoffs Friday at 7 p.m.