2018 was not the greatest of regular seasons for San Pedro High football, as they walked into the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division 1 playoffs as the sixth seed with a 4-6 record, just ending a four-game losing streak with a 28-6 victory at Gardena for the first and only Marine League victory on October 26.
Three weeks later, the Pirates are now sprinting their way to what some will say is an unlikely berth in the CIF-LACS Division 1 championship game.
Call it what you want, but that's exactly where San Pedro wanted their season to end, with a chance at a title.
By virtue of their 44-14 semifinal victory over South Gate at Mike Walsh Pirate Stadium on Friday, San Pedro will indeed battle for the CIF-LACS Division 1 championship on Saturday, November 24 7 pm at El Camino College, where top-seeded Dorsey awaits.
It was a monster game from junior running back Joshua Ward that was the headline of the night, as he rushed for school single-game playoff records of 268 yards and five touchdowns to power San Pedro.
How did this all happen?
San Pedro (7-6 overall) was mired in a four-game losing streak, all to Carson, four-time defending CIF-LACS Open Division champion Narbonne, Harbor Area neighbor Banning, and even CIF-Southern Section Division 3 finalist Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. So coach Corey Miller said the Pirates had either two choices.
"You could either throw in the towel, or keep working hard, believing in yourselves, your brothers and the staff," Miller exclaimed in his postgame speech with the team after the game before ending with: "It's exciting to get to a final, but it's even more exciting to win a final."
In fact, it will be San Pedro's first CIF-LACS football final since the infamous 2008 showdown with Narbonne at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with the classic & controversial finish on the Barry Heads to Benny Weischedel 15-yard touchdown pass connection as time expired followed by the extra point to force a 21-21 deadlock and a share of the championship.
South Gate (8-5) was fresh off two straight upset road victories in the playoffs over El Camino Real of Woodland Hills and then second-seeded Westchester, and they carried that momentum into the opening possession of the game when quarterback Andrew Gallegos found an open receiver in Brock Brocio for a 15-yard touchdown, ending a drive that consumed the game's first five minutes and six seconds, giving the No.10 Rams a 7-0 lead which remained at the end of the first quarter when San Pedro junior kicker Andres Srsen missed a 41-yard field goal.
What happened in the second quarter seemed to strike like a bolt of lightning, and it was all Pirates from that point on.
After a lengthy drive, Ward would put San Pedro on the board with a two-yard touchdown run with 8:11 to play in the second quarter. On South Gate's next offensive series, it would end on two plays thanks to a heads-up play by sophomore defensive back Richie Sanchez who jumped the slant route, picked off the pass, and returned it 21 yards for a game-breaking touchdown 56 seconds after Ward's tying score.
Sanchez would make his presence felt a second straight time when South Gate inexplicably fumbled the ensuing kickoff from Srsen, as Sanchez recovered the ball after a high bounce and two muffs from the Rams. Ward would score a second time on a six-yard run for a 21-7 San Pedro lead with 4:52 to play in the second.
Gallegos would be intercepted again on a deep pass by San Pedro junior WR/DB Jerad Braff, leading to yet another Ward touchdown this time on a four-yard run with 49 seconds left before halftime. The drive was extended by senior quarterback Justin Bernal's 38-yard pass to sophomore wideout Joshua Johnson, who made an incredible play to snatch the ball in single coverage while in the air to avoid a potential interception.
Although the Rams would score on a nine-play, 99-yard drive in the third quarter to cut San Pedro's lead to 28-14 on another scoring toss from Gallegos to Brucio on a 19-yard fade pass, the Pirates continued to keep the pressure on.
On the second punt from senior WR/DB Cam Thomas (who celebrated his 18th birthday) pinned South Gate on their own one-yard line for the second time late in the third quarter, it would be Ward who would turn it up a notch on both sides of the field.
The very next play, Ward would level Gallegos in the back of the end zone for a safety with ten seconds left, and then after the ensuing safety kickoff, Ward would bust loose with a 74-yard touchdown run up the middle, his fourth of the night, on the final play of the third quarter. In a matter of seconds, San Pedro would carry a 37-14 lead into the final frame.
However Ward was not done yet.
With 8:18 remaining in the game, Ward slipped two tackles on his final carry of the night, and outraced the entire Ram defense for an electrifying 85-yard touchdown run for the game's final touchdown.
San Pedro's defense forced two turnovers on downs to finish off South Gate, and once the time expired and the Pirates shook hands with the Rams, Thomas along with help from some of his teammates would proceed to do the obligatory dump of the Gatorade bucket on coach Miller, who avoided the first attempt, but not the second.
One can only imagine how exciting it could be if the Pirates find a way to defeat Dorsey, who will be entering their third straight CIF-LACS Division 1 championship game in search of a championship. The Dons (8-5) eliminated fourth-seeded Fairfax, 34-16 in the other semifinal.
The last meeting between the two old Southern Pacific Conference rivals was just two years ago, when Dorsey defeated San Pedro, 31-9 at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles in the 2016 CIF-LACS Division 1 semifinals.