It rained from a cloudless sky Friday night at Wilson High School, and that wasn’t even the strange part. There was a lot of emotion and excitement going into the game, as both teams were right on the bubble of a third-place finish, with a guaranteed playoff berth. After a crazy 48 minutes of football had concluded, the Jordan Panthers came away with yet another magical victory, and left the Bruins on the outside looking in.
The game started with a huge opening shot from Jordan, as Anthony Smith returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown—when Wilson got the ball back, they tried to establish their running game, and instead wound up going three-and-out. Then a blocked punt gave the Panthers the ball within striking distance of the end zone, and strike they did, giving the Panthers a 13-0 lead very quickly. Given that the Bruins’ strategy was to run the ball, control the clock, and play disciplined defense, things were looking grim. They were down 19-6 with less than thirty seconds to go before half, when a double-reverse toss from Ezell Ruffin to Christian Rogers was good for a 53-yard touchdown, narrowing the score to 19-13 as both teams headed for the locker room.
The second half was just as wild, as Wilson scored the first two touchdowns, taking a 27-19 lead thanks to an 11-yard pass from Stephen Barrett to Cheyne Garcia, and a circus-worthy 22-yard touchdown run by Jemari Roberts on a fake field goal attempt. But Jordan battled back, shifting their offensive style dramatically. In the first half, they threw for 121 yards and only gained 13 yards on the ground—in the second, they didn’t complete a single pass and instead chewed up 151 yards rushing. In the fourth quarter, it was Panthers QB John Timu running the option that enabled them to move the ball effectively against the stingy Bruins defense—Timu finished with 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including the one that pulled the score to 27-25.
Then Jordan got the ball back on their own forty with a little over four minutes to go. Princeton “Bobo”Fuiamono came up huge, with his first two carries of the night going for 21 carries each. With Timu and Bobo getting their offense juiced, The Panthers put together an all-run clinic, moving to within striking distance, and going in for the go-ahead touchdown with just 19 seconds left, thanks to Tevita Palu’s leaping dive into the end zone. After the kickoff went out of bounds and Barrett completed a ten yard pass to Ezell Ruffin at midfield, who fell out of bounds, it looked like the Bruins might have a shot at getting the ball downfield, but Barrett was sacked and the Bruins had no time outs, and no time left.
It’s easy to find positives for Wilson to focus on—they played their most complete offensive game of the season, with 201 yards rushing (including 122 on 23 carries from back Brandon Robertson). Barrett threw for just 33 yards, but only turned the ball over once, and had a crucial touchdown—he also had 39 yards on the ground, with a crucial fake punt and a few key scrambles. Roberts only saw the ball once through the air, but Wilson got him five touches on the ground, including the touchdown run. Their defense played well for most of the game, especially against a playmaker like Timu. “Our biggest challenge on the night was to try and contain John Timu,” Wilson coach Mario Morales said after the game. “We were effective for three quarters, but we couldn’t adjust to the option in time at the end.” Ultimately, they played tough in a very competitive game, and came up one or two plays short.
The Jordan Panthers found themselves in that situation plenty of times in 2007—not so this season. The Panthers are that team with the magic this season, and tonight’s victory was just one more example of it. Timu is developing into one of the league’ most dynamic players, with 121 yards through the air in the first half, and 54 yards on the ground in the second—altogether he accounted for three touchdowns, a few crucial tackles on defense, and a ton of outside-the-pocket plays that kept drives going on third and fourth down. They also had what every team on the rise needs—playmakers developing when they needed them, with Bobo’s four carries for 49 yards in the second half a necessary boost. “John T. and Bobo broke the game open,” said Panthers coach Scott Meyer. “Our team has a lot of character, and they showed it with the way they fought tonight.”
The loss means the Bruins have to beat Lakewood next week to continue their hopes of qualifying for postseason play; Jordan still has to play Cabrillo and Poly, but their players stated what this win means for them as succinctly as possible when they broke their postgame huddle, shouting, “Playoffs!”