WILMINGTON - There has been plenty of incredible memories in this century-old Battle Of The Harbor football rivalry between San Pedro and Banning of Wilmington High that dates back to their first meeting all the way back in 1921.
Just over a full century later, came the biggest battle of all.
The Pirates and Pilots both came in with equal 3-0 Marine League records, relatively breezing through league play before finally meeting in a highly anticipated showdown pitting the No.1 and No.2 teams in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section according to the CalPreps rankings, just like last year's battle, which the Pilots won, 48-41 at Mike Walsh Pirate Stadium in a high scoring war.
On this Friday night, home field advantage was switched... and so did the bragging rights in the Harbor Area once again.
Relying on a stingy defensive effort, and the familiar Pound-N-Ground rugged offensive style, visiting San Pedro emerged victorious with a 14-7 triumph over Banning to cap off a perfect regular season for only the third time in program history, finishing as outright and undisputed Marine League champions.
Few can say they can go into a postseason without a loss for the first time as coach, but San Pedro's Corey Walsh joins that elite 'few' companies of first-year head coaches that can stake that claim. Walsh also did it with one of the gutsiest decisions of the game, and maybe the entire season.
With 4:37 left in the fourth quarter and the Pirates clinging to the lead with a 3rd & 9 situation, Walsh called upon junior 5'8'' defensive lineman Juan Reyes to make a play with the Pilots' last attempt to even the score.
Reyes made Walsh look like a pure genius, sacking Banning sophomore quarterback Robert Guerrero to force a punt.
From there, the combination of nine runs by junior quarterback Santiago Rivera and sophomore tailback Pete Eneliko was enough to churn out yardage for three first downs, with Eneliko's 13-yard run on the game's final play sealing the deal, and giving Walsh the obligatory, unavoidable Gatorade bath.
After a scoreless first quarter, San Pedro drew first blood on a four-yard touchdown run by senior FB/LB Makani Konopka for a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. The defense made it stand for the remainder of the half, forcing a missed 27-yard field goal attempt, and on the Pilots' final play in the closing seconds of the half, junior WR/DB Luka Mardesich makes a crucial interception of a Guerrero pass.
Despite not scoring in the final 15 seconds, the Pirates maintained the one-score advantage until three minutes remained in the third quarter when Guerrero found Elijah Nuhi-Yandall for an 18-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7, ending an impressive 13-play, 99-yard drive.
Mardesich returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the Banning 48-yard line, and that's when the march to regaining the lead began for San Pedro.
On the third play of the eventual go-ahead drive, sophomore quarterback Marcus Jeronymo, part of Walsh's two-quarterback tag team combo, found sophomore TE/LB Dylan Rubino for a 16-yard pass, with Rubino dragging Pilot defenders along with him for a crucial first-down. San Pedro then stared at a fourth-and-six from the Banning 32 on the seventh play of the possesion. Rivera makes a gutsy pass on the run, throwing off his back foot to Mardesich for an 19-yard game.
Immediately on the next play, Rivera runs for a 13-yard touchdown off a quarterback draw to put the Pirates on top for good with 10:37 to play in the fourth quarter.
San Pedro's defense, who has yet to allow 20 points in a game all season, stepped up to the challenge on Banning's next possession, forcing a three-and-out on a tackle for loss by senior linebacker Miguel Castellon. Despite punting on their next offensive series, the Pirates' forced another punt thanks to Reyes' clutch sack.
This victory put San Pedro ahead once again in the all-time Battle Of The Harbor series, 42-41-3 despite playing without two key players, senior running back Roman Sanchez and senior WR/DB Laron Tunupopo.
Both are expected to return for the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Open Division playoffs which begins on Friday, November 11. Pairings will be announced today at 4 pm. San Pedro is expected to receive the overall top seed of the division.