Sunday, November 19, 2023

Prep Football: Last Second Fumble Secures Granite Hills' Upset Over No. 1 Lincoln in Open Division Final

The 2023 CIF San Diego Open Division Championship pitted the No. 3 seed Granite Hills Eagles against the top-seeded Lincoln Hornets Saturday night at Snapdragon Stadium. In another instant classic, Granite Hills (12-0) emerged victorious by a score of 27-26 thanks to a dramatic goal-line stand in the final seconds.

Lincoln (11-1) struck first on a 36-yard pass from Akili Smith Jr. to Mahki Gray, taking an early 6-0 lead in the opening quarter. A blocked punt by Jamerion Herbert was recovered in the end zone by Jerome Roberts, giving the Hornets a 13-0 advantage heading into the second.

The Eagles clawed back when Maxwell Turner dove into the end zone out of the Wildcat formation. After a punt pinned Granite Hills at their own 14, freshman quarterback Zachary Benitez found a wide-open Josh Zander, who sprinted for an 86-yard touchdown, making it 13-13 right before halftime.

The back-and-forth continued in the third when Smith hit Isaiah Grant on a 37-yard touchdown pass to put Lincoln up 20-13. Donald Reed III extended the lead to 26-13 on a 25-yard scoring run. But Granite Hills responded when running back Pablo Jackson delivered an option pass to Parker Vance, who took it 55 yards for a score, cutting the deficit to 26-20 entering the fourth.

Early in the final quarter, Zander came through again for the Eagles, hauling in a touchdown grab from Benitez to give Granite Hills their first lead at 27-26. After stopping the Eagles on 4th down, Lincoln drove inside the five-yard line with under two minutes left. But the Eagles defense delivered, stuffing the Hornets on four straight plays near the goal line to secure the first Open Division title in program history and extend their win streak to 21.

"Our defense made some incredible plays at the end when we needed them most," said Eagles head coach Kellan Cobbs. "I'm proud of my guys."

Senior defensive lineman Travis Ford recovered the fumbled snap on the final play. "We tried to bullrush and get guys back there," he explained. "The ball went backward and I was able to jump on it."

Benitez finished with 166 passing yards and two scores, becoming the first freshman starting quarterback to win an Open Division title. His poise under pressure was praised by Cobbs, "He's been cool, calm, and collected all year. He's going to be a national recruit."

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