In a wild, back-and-forth battle, the Jurupa Hills football players came from behind twice to obtain a thrilling victory in the second round of the CIF playoffs.
Quarterback Eric Marinez scored the winning touchdown with 1:44 remaining as the Spartans triumphed over previously undefeated Rio Hondo Prep, 36-29, at the Jurupa Hills stadium on Nov. 15.
Jurupa Hills (11-1) will now hit the road to face El Monte (12-0), the No. 1-seeded team in Division 12, in the semifinals on Friday, Nov. 22.
"It was a hard-fought game; it was a war out there," said linebacker Miguel Rodriguez, one of the Spartans' captains. "We all had faith in each other. We made some mistakes, but we stayed disciplined and came back."
With the score tied at 29-29 midway through the fourth quarter, the Jurupa Hills defense came through with a stop which ultimately determined the outcome.
Rio Hondo Prep faced a fourth down and 12 yards to go on its own 45-yard line. But instead of punting, the visitors decided to go for it, which turned out badly for them when a pass fell incomplete.
So the Spartans took over on downs in great field position and marched steadily to the end zone, sparked by runs of 13 and 12 yards by Trayton Cooper. From the 1-yard line, Marinez took the football over the goal line on a sneak.
"We knew we could score any time we wanted, and we knew our defense was making good plays," Marinez said.
Rio Hondo Prep had one last chance in the final minute, driving into Jurupa Hills territory. But a long pass was intercepted in the end zone by Davieon Gambo, resulting in a celebration by the Spartans and their fans.
"What a game!" Coach Citos Marinez said. "To me, to win a championship, you've got to win these kinds of games, so we're excited about having this experience going forward."
In the first quarter, the Spartans quickly took a 7-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown run by Cooper. After Rio Hondo Prep tied the score, Kamron Randell-Taylor surged 18 yards up the middle to put Jurupa Hills ahead again, 14-7.
Rio Hondo Prep rallied to go in front, 22-14, but in the last minute before halftime, Eric Marinez connected with Cooper on a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie it up once more, 22-22.
The opponents regained the lead, 29-22, in the third period, but Cooper's 6-yard run (set up by a 12-yard pickup by Sean McKenzie) created a 29-29 deadlock in the fourth stanza.
Cooper rushed 10 times for 73 yards in the game and also caught 4 passes for 49 yards. Randell-Taylor had 9 rushes for 41 yards and caught a 35-yard pass. Gambo had 3 rushes for 33 yards in addition to hauling in 3 passes for 74 yards.
Marinez completed 10 of 16 passes for 168 yards.