Host La Costa Canyon gave No. 4 Carlsbad all it could handle Friday night but, in the end, the visiting Lancers demonstrated the type of mettle championship teams do, knocking off the gritty Mavericks, 14-7, to finish as undefeated (6-0) champions of the Avocado League.
The winners, who last won a league title in 2006, are now 8-1 overall. They will close out the regular season against a 7-2 Vista squad that defeated Rancho Bernardo Friday night to clinch its own title in the Palomar League. Hard luck La Costa Canyon is now 4-5 overall, 2-3 in Avocado play and closes out league festivities Friday at Torrey Pines.
Carlsbad Head Coach Thadd MacNeal was understandably thrilled about finally reaching the top of the heap in his ninth year at the helm. “It feels really good,” said MacNeal whose outfit is positioned to be among the four CIF Open Division qualifiers for the second consecutive season. “Our league is very, very tough so to go through that schedule and be undefeated is pretty special for us.”
“We’re just trying to be consistent from year-to-year, just trying to get better every time we play. Tonight we had to fight and scratch. LCC is very good—it was a really hard-fought game.” The outcome also allowed MacNeal’s school to retain the Rotary Cup, presented to the winner of this series each year.
A taut first half had an unexpected finish as all of the points were scored in the final 1:29. The two teams were scoreless when LCC punted to the Lancers with less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter. Five plays and 60 yards later, Carlsbad was in the end zone courtesy of a 38-yd. pass from junior Aiden Sayin to relentless senior Cole Wright, who shined on both sides of the ball and racked up eight receptions for 159 yds. on the night
The Mavericks, who had been relatively quiet offensively, answered immediately. A fast-paced drive featuring junior Aiden Lippert (three runs and two pass receptions) and some timely penalties against the Lancers, got LCC to the Carlsbad five-yard line with just a few ticks remaining in the half. Senior QB Marshall Eucker, who was 17-of-23 for 195 yds. through the air and rushed for another 54, finished the march by hitting junior wide receiver Jayden Lucian for a TD, forging a 7-7 tie at the half.
Carlsbad, which was flagged for six penalties in the first half, saw that trend continue in the third period. On their first drive of the second half, the Lancers had third and one at the LCC 23 but multiple penalties put them in a third and 28 situation that resulted in another wasted scoring opportunity.
The Lancers, who piled up 406 yds. of total offense on the night, kept grinding and with 1:55 on the third quarter clock used a fake punt to prolong a drive that ultimately brought them to a first and goal just inside the 10-yd. line. With time running down in the quarter, Sayin connected with Noah Vella for an apparent go-ahead touchdown but it was called back by yet another penalty. The Lancers were not to be denied this time, however, and one play later it was Sayin again, looping a 17-yd. pass that Zach Chavez lassoed in the right corner of the end zone. The senior’s circus catch made it 14-7.
“My coaches put me in the position where I had to come down with the ball,” said Chavez. “I just went up, got it and did my job. We had to come back, had to make a big play and we did.”
With 12 minutes to go, Coach Sean Sovacool’s LCC side was not about to disappear quietly. Starting from its own 10-yd. line, the Mavs began gobbling up real estate. With 2:51 on the clock, Lippert, lined up in a wildcat formation, took a direct snap and completed a 36-yd. pass-run to tight end Sam Bennett but a 15-yd. unsportsmanlike conduct penalty tacked on at the end of the play left LCC with a first down at the Carlsbad 49. Fifty-two seconds later, looking at fourth and two from the 41, back-to-back flags left LCC in a desperate situation from which it couldn’t escape.
Sovacool, whose club has had more than its share of heartache and could easily be 8-1 itself in 2019, knew his team would not fold up down the stretch. “Our effort’s always there,” he said. “Relentless, competitive effort is No. 1 in our culture playbook—it has nothing to do with Xs and Os.” But he also had plenty of respect for what he saw from Friday night’s opponent.
“You’re got to give credit to Carlsbad,” he continued. “Our defense would stop them but they were moving the ball. We were dealing with long fields again. I don’t know how many times we started inside our 10. That makes it pretty difficult.
“They played disciplined, played sound and played hard. That’s a credit to their coaches. There are football teams and football programs and every school in the Avocado League is a football program. They have a good senior class that’s been winning for a long time and they know how to do it.”
Both MacNeal and Chavez had similar takes on what got the Lancers to the finish line against LCC. “They pressured us and yeah, we were a little off offensively,” said MacNeal, “but we’re just resilient. We teach our kids that you have to overcome whatever the obstacle is. You don’t ever make an excuse—you just have to keep playing football.”
Minutes after the final whistle, the giddy Chavez talked about his team’s performance but also what lies ahead. “LCC was very tough,” he said. “They brought it to us but we were ready, we responded and brought it to them better.
“We’ve never won league in my career and tonight we did it. It feels amazing—now we want to go all the way to the CIF championship game and win that too.”