Click here for game highlights courtesy of KUSI
Some of the best senior football players from around San Diego County traveled up to Northern Los Angeles, arrive back home the victors.
It was a daunting task: Put together a team comprised of San Diego’s best senior high school football players and in a little more than a week have them prepared to take on a group of some of the best players from the CIF Los Angeles City Section, widely considered to be among the most talented pool of players in the State of California.
A year ago the series was started anew, and the football staff at St. Augustine High School accepted the challenge then, as they did now, to bring a team up to LA to face a team that was widely assumed to have the better talent…..by a large margin.
That game was decided after a mad scramble in the closing moments with a furious comeback that included a failed two point conversion to tie the game, and a successful onside kick which led the game winning field goal off of the right foot of St. Augustine’s Seamus McMorrow (now kicking for the San Diego State Aztecs).
The LA contingent, to say the least, was stunned. They were not supposed to lose that game. Hell if they were going to lose this one.
Putting the team together
In a way, coaching this game was therapeutic for the Saints staff. It took some of the sting off of a humbling 35-21 defeat in the CIF San Diego Section Div. 4 championship game. The Madison Warhawks, and not the St. Augustine Saints, would go on to win the state Division 3 championship two weeks later.
More importantly, though, it was a chance just to coach football for a bit longer before the long offseason layoff.
A little more than two weeks after the championship game, after the coaches and Saints players had a chance to lick their wounds, attentions turned to the all stars. QB coach Akili Smith, running backs coach Jason Van, defensive backs coach Brian Afoa, defensive line coach Joe Kremer, and offensive coordinator John Roberts went to work. Using KUSI’s “Prep Pigskin Report” and their own connections throughout the high school football community–and as many YouTube videos as they could find as a guide–they compiled a wish list of players.
On January 2nd, the team convened for the first time for their first practice at Mesa College: Players from all over San Diego County—from Chula Vista High School to El Camino High School, and as far east as Ramona High School, and everywhere in between. Different schools, different leagues, different backgrounds, different offensive and defensive systems. There were a handful of teammates. Some knew each other in passing, others not at all. They would have eight practices in 11 days to become a team.
It didn’t take that long for the team to gel. By the third practice you would have thought they had all played together since Pop Warner. Players who were invited but had initially decided not to participate started calling Jason Michelkamp, the operations coordinator for the San Diego team, asking if they could still play because they knew they were missing out. “Is it too late to get on the team? The guys told me how much fun they were having. I didn’t think it would be that much fun.”
The game itself almost didn’t happen. It was supposed to be played in Long Beach at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The hotel was lined up, and parents had made their travel plans.
The Thursday before the game, everything changed. The game was moving to Pasadena City College. The team hotel was now in Van Nuys. The team banquet was moved to Granada Hills. Then the game venue was changed again, this time to Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village.
Head coach Richard Sanchez gathered the team before practice and filled them in. A year ago the event organizers had left many promises unfulfilled, yet the teams still managed to play the game and put on a good show. Maintaining a commitment to play this time would be a risk. Once the team got on that bus (if the bus showed at all) that would be it. They were stuck, and would simply have to roll with whatever happened. If they wanted to back out, now was the time to do it.
But there was no turning back for this group. They were playing, even if it meant they had to sleep in tents the night before. They had put in too much work and were having too much fun to let it end that way.
At 9:45am on Saturday morning, they loaded up a luxury bus and headed to the Airtel Hotel in Van Nuys.
It was a rocky start for the team from San Diego. Los Angeles took control of the game in their opening offensive series, covering the final 38 yards on a halfback pass that was tipped and nearly intercepted by Point Loma safety Zach Eischen, but instead fell right into the hands of LA’s Bijon Parker (Fairfax High) who darted the final 20 yards to the end zone. 7-0 Los Angeles.
The San Diegans looked like they would answer right back when St. Augustine’s Dominic Morgan took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to the LA three yard line. But the San Diego offense was unable to capitalize, and was forced to settle for a 27 yard field goal by Madison’s Anthony Herrera. 7-3 Los Angeles.
LA took advantage of their athleticism, scoring on a scramble drill dump off pass to the flat. San Diego defenders Patrick Lavelle (St. Augustine), Robbie DeCort (St. Augustine), and Javier Dominguez (Ramona) seemingly had LA Dorsey’s Reginald Bell corralled for a big loss, but Houdini managed to escape, finding a receiver to dump the ball to who managed to bob and weave his way downfield for the touchdown. 14-3 Los Angeles.
LA added a 2nd quarter field goal to take a 17-3 lead before Poway’s Nehemiah Gross ran 12 yards for a score, pulling the San Diegans to within seven. 17-10 LA at the half.
If the first half saw San Diego struggle to establish itself on either side of the ball, the second half was a different story as San Diego’s defense started to assert itself. After a scoreless third quarter, defensive end Robbie DeCort intercepted a tipped screen pass and took it to the end zone to even the score at 17.
From there the offense started to take control, and the Los Angeles team started to wilt. Methodically Lincoln’s Ian Hardman guided the team down the field, with El Camino’s Justin Williams carrying the load on the ground, finishing the drive with a 21 yard scoring run to put San Diego ahead for the first time in the game with just over 2:00 remaining.
The Angelinos had one last gasp, gaining one first down on their final drive, but falling well short on fourth and a mile. A few snaps later in victory formation, and the team from down south had won, 24-17.
Justin Williams was named the game MVP, and for the second year in a row, the San Diego group led by St. Augustine Head Coach Richard Sanchez proved that although they may not be the more talented team, they were without question the better, more prepared, more unified team. It was a terrific group of young men who bought in and took pride in representing their county.
They played as a team and when things looked bleak early on, there was no panic. There was no bickering, and no finger pointing; no one worried about how much playing time they were getting. They stuck together, and were rewarded with a victory.
The San Diego All Stars
QB Gabe Harrington, Francis Parker
QB Ian Hardman, Lincoln
QB Rashaan Miller, West Hills
OL Ben Piorkowski, St. Augustine
OL James Filley, St. Augustine
OL Austin Hyatt, St. Augustine
OL Ray Samuels, Chula Vista
OL Ziad Dhamanhoury, La Jolla Country Day
OL Jair Garay, San Diego
OL Norris Shull, Olympian
OL Kevin Jaynes, West Hills
OL Mike Diprima, Del Norte
TE Pat Dixon, St. Augustine
RB Justin Williams, El Camino
RB Nehemiah Gross, Poway
RB Andrelle Snowden, Olympian
WR Kendall Keys, Helix
WR Tajon Mondy, Lincoln
WR Chris Martin, Otay Ranch
WR Cory Bogans, El Camino
WR Tavarus Green, Eastlake
NG Milo Milo, Helix
NG Justin Lipisi, West Hills
DE Leo Marin, Carlsbad
DE Robbie DeCort, St. Augustine
DE Jordan Arnold, West Hills
LB Patrick Lavelle, St. Augustine
LB Ryan Herburger, St. Augustine
LB Blake Wilson, Eastlake
LB Alec Moreno, Poway
LB Zac Norton, Olympian
LB Javier Dominguez, Ramona
LB Justin Harrison, Calvary Christian
DB Dom Morgan, St. Augustine
DB Trent Galkoski, Grossmont
DB Zach Eischen, Pt. Loma
DB Marquise Powell, Helix
DB Stephon Zaczkiewicz, Serra
DB Devin Bryant, Horizon Christian
PK Anthony Herrera, Madison