A tremendous La Costa Canyon defensive effort went for naught as visiting Mission Hills took advantage of some excellent late game field position to eke out a 14-10 Avocado League victory Friday night.
The win moved sixth-ranked Mission Hills to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in league play, trailing only 5-0 Carlsbad on the league ladder. No. 8 La Costa Canyon fell to 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in league.
It was a bitter pill for Coach Sean Sovacool’s Mavericks to swallow. Less than two minutes away from prevailing in a match-up that was a slugfest from the first whistle, LCC saw its own belated comeback reversed when Mission Hills scored on a 14-yard second and 10 run by junior Jason Boyle.
The decisive run, a spinning, tackle-breaking effort, came just five plays after an errant Maverick punt out of its own end zone handed the ball to the Grizzlies at the LCC 26. The La Costa Canyon defense immediately put Mission Hills in a third and eight jam but junior Cameron Woolsey bulled 10 yards to earn a new set of downs and ultimately Boyle’s score.
“This was absolutely heart-wrenching—to lose to those guys like we did,” said Sovacool following the final horn. “We made a great defensive effort, we battled, but in the end they made the plays and we didn’t—it was very disappointing.”
The two defenses set the tone for the evening. Mission Hills surrendered just 153 yards of total offense while La Costa Canyon’s “D” was nearly as stingy and forced three turnovers.
Junior Joe Bowman’s 40-yd. field goal provided the only first half points, sending LCC into the break up, 3-0. The Grizzlies took the lead for the first time with 3:14 remaining in the third quarter when Woolsey swept around right end, covering nine yards to the end zone.
With the Maverick offense stuck in neutral, it looked like Mission Hills might be able to run out the clock but a big special teams play early in the fourth quarter flipped the momentum and put the home team in position to emerge triumphant. Six-foot-two senior Brendan Quinn blocked and then recovered a punt, giving LCC its best starting point of the night at the Grizzly 37.
Five plays later, the ball now back at the 42, junior track star Aiden Lippert did what Aiden Lippert so often does—make a big play. The team’s 5-foot-8 leading rusher, hit the middle of the line, parted the Mission Hills defense, left several would-be tacklers grasping in his slipstream, and raced 42 yards to give LCC the lead back at 10-7 with just 8:08 on the clock.
La Costa Canyon then surprised MH with a well-executed onside kick but failed to come up with the ball. The ensuing field position allowed the Grizzlies to pin Sovacool’s squad inside its own five-yard line on a subsequent punt. That led to the Mavericks’ shanked boot which eventually resulted in the conclusive possession and TD. Sovacool took responsibility for the chain of events.
“They were terribly misaligned, the onside kick was there and we were inches from getting it,” lamented Sovacool in retrospect. “We get that ball, it probably ends the game but we didn’t, give them good field position again and wind up losing.
“That’s my fault. I’m an aggressive coach and I don’t play to lose, I play to win. That one was on me.”
Even with that, the Mavs still had life. After going four-and-out and returning the ball to Mission Hills with less than a minute left, their defense was shockingly able to pry loose the football and fall on it at its owns 39 with 45 seconds to make something happen. It wasn’t to be, however, a fourth down incomplete pass falling harmlessly as time ran out.
With two games left, hosting league-leading Carlsbad Friday before traveling to Torrey Pines a week later, LCC still has plenty to play for. Likely the best four-loss team in the county, the Mavericks dropped a one-sided season opener at defending CIF Open Division champion Cathedral Catholic, but the other three defeats have been by a total of 11 points, one being a four-overtime affair at No. 9 Oceanside.
Although in need of help, they are still mathematically in the Avocado title hunt. Regardless of records, Torrey Pines will always be the “game of the year” at LCC and despite being at .500 are apt to be a high seed in the Division I CIF Playoff bracket.
“This is a very good team,” said Sovacool with conviction. “Every team that’s played us will tell you the same.
“We’re going to approach these final two games the same as we’ve approached every other game this season. We’re going to play for each other and focus on going 1-0 each week. We had three goals at the start of the season—win league, beat our rivals and win CIF. We can still achieve them all.”