(The Times does have the story online with minimal cuts. I'll have to see what makes the actual paper on Sunday.)
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — Despite the tears in his eyes, El Camino coach Mark Turner held his thumb and forefinger just a smidgen apart and smiled.
“One inch,” Turner said. “For years, over the history of people playing sports, people have put their two fingers together and said they were ‘this close’ to winning. Usually it doesn’t mean they were that close to winning … but we were literally an inch away from winning.”
Turner was referring to a play that happened with 52 seconds left in Saturday afternoon’s 48th Bell Game between El Camino and host South San Francisco. The Warriors converted a critical 4th and 2, with the tip of the ball just touching the marker pole on the ensuing measurement, then scored on a 16-yard pass from Brad Los to sophomore Robert Johnson to secure a 29-22 win after a two-point conversion on the next play.
With the win, South City (5-4) retains the Bell and has won 39 of the contests between the two South San Francisco schools. El Camino just missed out on its 10th win in the series.
The rivalry inspired the game situation Saturday, coaches admitted. For example, take the case of the Warriors trying to make the critical fourth-down play instead of attempting about a 35-yard field goal. (Right: The referees award the first down to South City High as El Camino players, in red, look on.)
“Do we make that play against Menlo School? No,” said South City coach Frank Moro. “Maybe that little extra shot of adrenaline playing for a Bell in front of a big crowd (did it).”
But to even see how the Warriors got in a position for the winning score, one must regress to just after the Colts scored a go-ahead touchdown to lead 22-21 with just 2:42 left. Turner had El Camino line up for an onside kick, but South City recovered on their own 49 to set up the final drive, in which good starting position proved critical.
“If you don’t get the ball on the 50, maybe you don’t feel you have a chance and you start sputtering,” Moro said. “(The Warriors) didn’t give up. It was almost like a gift.”
Turner argued that South City had brought back the ball nearly to midfield on almost every kickoff anyway, and thought that by kicking it short some Colts player might get lucky.
“Our kickoff coverage team this year has been a little scary,” Turner said. “I know it’s something a lot of people are going to question in hindsight, but hindsight is 20-20.”
El Camino (5-5) had taken a 14-13 lead into halftime after pair of touchdown passes from Omar Kharrob to Justin Eclavea and Tyler Rios, for 16 and 5 yards, respectively. South San Francisco (5-4) had gotten its first half scores on a 59-yard run up the right from Falah Salem and JJ Vaioli’s eight-yard run.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Warriors broke through with 8:36 left in the game when Salem capped a 10-play, 94-yard drive by running the ball in two yards, then also brought in the two-point conversion to give South City a 21-14 lead.
El Camino then ate up the clock with a 13-play drive which culminated with Tajah Childs running a route up the right for a five-yard scoring reception with made it 21-20. Although Childs made the catch, the referees ruled he was interfered with and charged South City with a half-the-distance penalty on the PAT. With only four feet to go to the goal line, Turner played for the win and Nathan Huey barely made it in for a two-point conversion and a 22-21 El Camino lead with 2:42 left.
Salem led all rushers with 178 yards on 25 carries. DJ Peluso led the Colts with 104 yards on 17 carries, while Huey’s 26 rushes led to 79 total yards.
“We made a great defensive play and the tip of the ball met the pole. Maybe there was a lot of extra cushioning on the pole, but we were less than an inch from winning the game,” Turner said.
“I told the seniors to remember this date, Nov. 13, 2010. They’re going to remember it, but they’re going to remember it by that one inch.”
El Camino (5-5) 7 7 0 8 — 22
South San Francisco (5-4) 7 6 0 16 — 29
EC-Eclavea 16 pass from Kharrob (Reinke kick)
SSF-Salem 59 run (Torres kick)
SSF-Vaioli 8 run (kick failed)
EC-Rios 5 pass from Kharrob (Reinke kick)
SSF-Salem 2 run (Salem run)
EC-Childs 5 pass from Kharrob (Huey run)
SSF-Johnson 16 pass from Los (Bildhauer pass from Los)
Yards rushing 207 206
Yards passing 50 103
Total net yards 257 309
Turnovers 2 2
Fumbles 1 0
Fumbles lost 1 0
EL CAMINO (att-yards) — Peluso 17-104, Huey 26-79, Kharrob 7-16, Samson 1-6, Carr 1-1, Childs 1-1.
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — Salem 25-178, Los 3-15, Vaioli 2-14, Johnson 1-3, Bildhauer 1-(minus 2), Tufono 1-(minus 2).
EL CAMINO (com-att-yds-int) — Kharrob 7-18-50-1.
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — Los 8-17-103-2.
EL CAMINO (rec-yds) — Eclavea 2-28, Rios 2-15, Childs 1-5, Peluso 1-2, Francesconi 1-0.
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — Vaioli 3-29, Bildhauer 2-26, Salem 1-18, Johnson 1-16, Moro 1-7.