Jairo Rueda may have been the only one on the entire Lowell football team’s roster to know what was going on in Matthew Jew’s mind.
The Academic Athletic Association regular-season title and Lowell’s perfect conference record hung in the balance as Jew trotted onto the field to attempt a game-winning 29-yard field goal Friday at Balboa.
The Cardinals trailed 8-6 with 3.5 seconds remaining on the clock and as he got set to block on the line for the decisive kick, Rueda couldn’t help but flash back to last year’s postseason. He was the kicker then and his game-winning attempt against Lincoln from 29 yards out sailed wide right, bouncing Lowell from the playoffs in a 24-22 loss and leaving some Cardinals crying on the Kezar Stadium turf.
But this time, there were only tears of joy on the Lowell sideline. Jew’s high-arching kick had plenty of distance and snuggled just inside the left upright, giving the Cardinals a 9-8 win and clinching the league’s top playoff seed for Lowell (9-1, 7-0 AAA).
The Cardinals will open the postseason against No. 4 Mission (5-5, 4-3) Friday at 4 p.m. at Kezar Stadium, with No. 2 Lincoln (8-2, 6-1) playing third-seeded Balboa (5-5, 5-2) at 7 p.m., also Friday at Kezar.
"I was on the line thinking back to last year and how it was me out there and I missed," Rueda said. "And then how proud I was of [Matt] for making that huge one today."
Jew said he was nervous standing on the sideline anticipating the kick, but knew he "had to go out there and get the job done."
"I was hoping it wasn’t going to hook too far left and then I saw the refs put their arms up and the whole team just mobbed me," Jew said. "This is probably one of the best days of my life."
Lowell was forced far out of its comfort zone in an effort to come back against Balboa. Facing first-and-10 at its own 20-yard line with 1:29 remaining, a Lowell team that had accumulated just eight pass completions for 187 yards all season coming into the game was forced to go to the air. And after two runs got the Cardinals to their 42, quarterback Carter Rockwell hit J.R. Ayalde down the right side with a perfect 44-yard bomb to put Lowell close.
And then, a Cardinals squad that almost always opts to go for two-point conversions rather than kick extra points was forced to rely on a kick to maintain its unbeaten AAA mark.
Meanwhile, Balboa left the field feeling as though it had let a certain win slip away. The Buccaneers took the 8-6 lead in the second quarter on a 51-yard pass play from Eric Lara to Soloman Webster and Balboa had several opportunities to take a bigger lead, including a third-quarter drive that started at the Lowell 3-yard line after a Paradise Vaovasa fumble recovery.
But the Cardinals’ defense forced a four-and-out, the second time it had denied Balboa inside its own 10-yard line.
"We just didn’t convert enough of the chances we had and left a lot of points on the field," Balboa coach Keith Minor said. "It shouldn’t have come down to a last-second field goal."
Sacred Heart CATHEDRAL 28, Casa Grande 17
On a night when 38 Irish seniors suited up for their final high school football game, two sophomores provided all the scoring in a Sacred Heart (6-4) win over North Bay powerhouse Casa Grande (8-2). Running back Desarte Yarnway, who finished the season just short of 1,200 rushing yards, mixed three touchdowns in among his 277 total yards, including 192 rushing, to give a stout Irish defense more than enough points for the win.
Fellow sophomore Stevie Lee jump-started Sacred Heart with a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown a little over a minute into the first quarter. This gave the Irish a lead they never relinquished.
Not that this was only a night for the youngsters. The senior-led Irish defense intercepted Casa Grande quarterbacks three times. Senior Robert Carlson had two picks, the second shutting down the Gaucho’s last drive at the Irish 2-yard line. Overall, Sacred Heart held the powerful Gauchos to 289 yards of total offense despite Casa Grande’s significant size advantage. — Larry Rosen
At Kezar Stadium
» No. 1 Lowell (9-1, 7-0) vs.
No. 4 Mission (5-5, 4-3), 4 p.m.
» No. 2 Lincoln (8-2, 6-1) vs.
No. 3 Balboa (5-5, 5-2), 7 p.m.