PACIFICA, Calif. — Helmet in hand, Fazon Ruth stood, forlorn, on the visitor’s sideline, watching Terra Nova engineer what looked to be a game-winning drive.
After scoring four touchdowns in his varsity debut to put Riordan up by two, the Crusaders’ junior running back had fumbled inside the five-yard line on a fourth down pitch with two minutes left. The Tigers quickly advanced to midfield, and then, with 20 seconds left, senior corner Zachary Charlton jumped in front of an out-route from quarterback Raphael Bendo for an interception at the Riordan 45-yard line, directly in front of Ruth, touching off a wild celebration.
The pick sealed the 26-24 win, meaning that, on Monday morning, first-year head coach Mark Modeste will stand outside his office and watch the Victory Bell — the World War II battleship bell his father installed 60 years ago — ring for a football win for the first time in 51 weeks.
“It was definitely the most emotional moment in my life,” Charlton said. “It’s big.”
The win over the Tigers was the first since Sept. 8, 2018 for Riordan, which went just 1-9 last season. The Crusaders did it behind an unexpectedly heavy workload from Ruth, who, after playing on junior varsity all last season, carried the ball 36 times for 240 yards in Modeste’s new run-heavy, smash-mouth offense.
Riordan (1-0) and Ruth got off to a slow start in Modeste’s first game as head coach, going down 14-7 early in the second quarter, with their only score a 22-yard run by Ruth. Though the Crusaders lost tackle Tanginoa Harris early, Ruth found a rhythm running behind 300-pound sophomore fullback Kemoeatu Kefu, scoring on a five-yard scamper and then a 14-yard run with just 45 seconds left before halftime.
Ruth added a 10-yard score with 5:48 to go in the third quarter, before Terra Nova scored on a 28-yard field goal and then an 80-yard Bendo pass to Mateo Jimenez against Riordan’s cover-3 with 45 seconds left before the final stanza.
“We were just a step or two away on a couple of their drives,” Modeste said. “The film will be great. We really needed that on a lot of levels.”
The defense cinched down, holding former Crusaders running back Jalen Camp — who transferred to Terra Nova this summer — to just 32 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries before he broke his toe, and defensive end Ian Tupulua racked up four sacks.
Offensively, the Crusaders kept things on the ground — passing just nine times on the night — and ground clock in the fourth, driving down to the three-yard line with just over two minutes to go. Then, a pitch from quarterback Azaan Ledbetter to Ruth went awry, as Ruth couldn’t get a handle on the ball and saw it slip off his fingers.
“He’s always there, he works really hard, I wish we had a bunch more of him, but that play was there, we had it set up,” Modeste said. “We didn’t run that a lot in practice. We got that in late early this week. If you don’t practice it a lot, sometimes that happens.”
A pair of completions and a 15-yard targeting penalty (one of 12 accepted penalties called on Riordan) brought the Tigers near midfield, before Adam Kolokotrones came around the right edge, hurried Bendo and forced an incompletion up the middle.
Bendo’s third-down pass to the far sideline with 20 seconds left found Charlton, who hasn’t practiced for two weeks and sat out Riordan’s scrimmage with a shoulder injury.
“To feel how I felt after the game, it was beautiful,” Charlton said.
As the Crusaders (1-0) gathered behind the west end zone after Modeste’s first win as head coach, former quarterback Adham Abdelghani addressed the team from crutches. The senior had torn his ACL in the team’s preseason scrimmage, bringing some of his teammates to tears.
“I don’t know if I could have ever done that if I was in his situation,” Modeste said.
In his three previous varsity seasons, Abdelghani had seen his team win just five games.
“It’s different. The energy is different,” Abdelghani told his teammates. “I love it, I love it, I love it. I’m coming to every game to watch you all play.”
Then, Ruth piped up.
“Hey, Adham,” Ruth shouted over the din as the Crusaders assembled. “What’s four plus four? It’s eight. That’s your number, right? I did that for you.”