With nine games in the books for the 2018 season, San Pedro High School football was mired in a four-game losing streak with a 3-6 overall record, wondering how they would turn their season around. A month and five straight victories later, the Pirates are feeling like they’re on top of the world.
It wasn’t easy, but sixth-seeded San Pedro thwarted a late charge by top-seeded Dorsey of Los Angeles and won 22-20, capturing the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division 1 championship in front of an estimated 4,500 fans at El Camino College Murdock Stadium on Saturday, November 24. This crowning moment capped off a wild season that many wouldn’t believe would end in glorious fashion.
At least on this night, San Pedro (8-6 overall) will not have to share this championship with anyone else, like the Pirates did in 2008 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Dorsey (8-6) was carrying an eight-game winning streak into the title tilt and carried that confidence into their opening possession of the game after forcing a San Pedro punt. On just the Dons’ third play from scrimmage, senior running back, Keeshawn Johnson, broke free for an electrifying 90-yard touchdown run to put Dorsey up 6-0 midway through the first quarter, as the Pirates stopped the ensuing two-point conversion.
Senior quarterback, Justin Bernal, would hook up with senior wide receiver, Cam Thomas, for a 41-yard first down to put the Pirates in the red zone before junior WR/DB/K, Andres Srsen, nailed a 25-yard field goal late in the first quarter to cut Dorsey’s lead to 6-3, which would remain that way at quarter’s end.
After a big pass play on a wide receiver reverse, the Dons would strike again with a short three-yard touchdown run and ensuing two-point conversion run from sophomore Michael Sanford, for a 14-3 advantage.
From there, San Pedro was awoken, and came up big on two plays to turn the game around in their favor. On San Pedro’s ensuing offensive drive, a 19-yard first down pass from Bernal to Srsen would extend the drive to their own 40-yard line, then a personal foul on Dorsey put the Pirates past midfield. Three plays later, junior running back, Joshua Ward, would drive his way into Pirate football lore with one of the greatest runs ever.
After taking the handoff from Bernal, Ward appeared to have been stopped behind the line of scrimmage, then after breaking for a couple of yards, he would shed off three more Dorsey would-be tacklers before escaping and running for a 29-yard touchdown with only eight minutes left in the second quarter for a 14-10 Dons lead.
However, the Pirates weren’t done.
A crucial holding penalty on Dorsey wiped out a first down run, then two plays later, San Pedro’s defense finally got a big break when the next pass was read perfectly by sophomore defensive back Joshua Johnson, who jumped the route and intercepted it, returning it 27 yards for an easy touchdown to put San Pedro ahead with 6:30 remaining in the second quarter.
San Pedro would maintain a 16-14 halftime lead until the eight-minute mark in the fourth quarter. After Dorsey was stopped on fourth down after an attempted fake punt, three straight bruising runs of 14 yards from junior Alexander Prado, a ten-yard run by Ward, and then Ward again for a two-yard touchdown put San Pedro ahead 22-14 with 8:13 to play.
The two CIF-LACS powers would trade punts, but the Dons somehow drove down field to score one more time with Sanford on a two-yard touchdown run, and it was 22-20 with 1:14 to play. There was no question Dorsey would go for a potential game-tying two-point conversion, but the Dons were flagged for a five-yard delay of game penalty.
The Dons were forced to throw for two and went for a halfback option pass, but it fell incomplete, much to the relief of the Pirates.
Once junior TE/DL Matthew McCabe recovered the ensuing onside kick followed by two kneel downs by Bernal, San Pedro could finally breathe again and celebrate their hard-earned crown.
During San Pedro’s four-game losing streak towards the end of the regular season, the offense struggled to put points on the board after blowing a 17-0 halftime lead in a Marine League opening 27-24 loss to Carson on September 28. From there, the Pirates were routed in three straight defeats to CIF-LACS Open Division champion Narbonne, Harbor Area neighbor Banning, and CIF-Southern Section Division 3 champion Sierra Canyon.
Playing those teams definitely prepared the Pirates for the long run, as they would finish the year with their only Marine League victory over Gardena, followed by three impressive playoff wins over Granada Hills Charter, Reseda and South Gate when the offense found its groove again and the defense was stingy when it mattered against a Dorsey team that was playing its third consecutive CIF-LACS Division 1 final.
San Pedro would avenge a 10-8 loss to the Dons in the 1995 CIF-LACS Division 4A final, which also ironically enough occurred at El Camino College and also ending an eight-game losing streak to the reigning Coliseum League champions.
San Pedro’s latest sports championship just comes 21 days after the girls volleyball team captured a CIF-LACS Division 1 crown.
It truly is “ring season” in Pirate Town.