Centinelas come back from double-digit deficit to claim trophy and undefeated season
MEXICALI, Baja California., (KYMA, KECY) - With their backs against the wall and an unbeaten season hanging in the balance, Enrique Ruiz and the Imperial Valley Centinelas coaching staff had to make one of their toughest decisions of the year on Sunday night.
Down 10-0 midway through the third quarter of the O.F.A Baja California State championship game, Brawley alum, David Camacho, was called on from the sideline to run the offense and create a spark.
It was a decision that took the ball out of the hands of standout Joey Ramos - who was named the league's Quarterback of the Year.
But Ramos was banged up and the offense struggled to move the ball efficiently, leading to a late deficit.
This would be the third time the Centinelas trailed late to Spartans Mexicali this season alone - needing a last second game-winning drive in week one and a late touchdown and defensive stop in week six.
Now Camacho had the keys in his hands for the chance to drive his team to the finish line.
"In the middle of the third quarter, I got told I was going in at quarterback and I was ready to go. I put my game face on and I was ready to work," said Camacho. "It felt great because I knew I had to do what I had to do win this football game and put the team on my back."
With under a minute to play in the third quarter, Blake Krigbaum hit the edge and picked up a big first down to keep the chains moving inside Spartans territory - followed by the biggest play of the year to that point.
Camacho would drop back to pass and take off on his feet, getting a block on the edge and racing down the sideline to the end zone for the Centinelas first score.
After a two-point conversion run from Luis Meza to make it 10-8, the defense would need at least one big stop at the turn of the quarter to get the ball back with a chance to win.
And they got the stop they needed.
On a big fourth down, the Spartans dropped back to pass and Michael Martinez closed quickly and picked off the pass to give the Centinelas one last chance.
After moving the chains for a couple first downs, both on the ground and a pass to, ironically, Joey Ramos who went out wide, the Centinelas were set up for the go-ahead score.
After getting stopped short at the one-yard line on third down, it came down to one play on fourth down.
Out of the shotgun, Camacho rolled out to his left, pump faked and strolled into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown - and the celebration ensued.
With just seconds left, the clock would run out on the Spartans and the Centinelas crowd and sideline erupted.
Camacho playing hero in an unlikely situation and getting credit from his teammates.
"It took a lot of heart. Our backup QB really stepped up and made plays that I couldn't make, but it's alright," said Joey Ramos as he was splashed with water over his head. "I mean, we won and at the end of the day that's all that matters. We won."
During the chaos of the celebration, Enrique Ruiz stood speechless on the sideline for a solid 30 seconds, with a big smile on his face. The creator and head coach of the Centinelas program taking in the moment that he'll never forget - and getting a celebratory water bath moments later.
"It's a dream come true," said Ruiz. "Honestly, I didn't doubt it for one second. I was really proud of these guys. I told them from the beginning not to give up."
Not giving up was the theme for the Centinelas this year. While they dominated most of the league en route to an 8-0 regular season, they had to battle back against the Spartans in all three games they played.
This one though standing above the rest. The team holding up the championship trophy and chanting "Valley for life" after the win.
"Champions," said Camacho. "It's running through my veins. Champions, we're champs. It wasn't easy but we did it. Whatever it took."
It was the perfect ending for a perfect season. Also a perfect way to hand this group of homegrown Imperial Valley natives a championship they have been chasing - especially those who never won one at the high school level.
A championship that tastes sweet for not only the athletes, but their head coach, as well.
"I'm so grateful for this," said Ruiz. "I've never won a championship. I've never finished undefeated. I can't describe the feeling."
Ruiz giving huge credit to his lineman and defense who played tough and physical all year-long. Something he hopes to bring back and add depth next year for a program that just began last year with only 14 players.
"We started from nothing. This is great. I want to do it again. I'm ready to do it again next year," added Ruiz. "One Valley, One team. Everybody in the Valley, come support us. We need your help."
One Valley, One Team being the motto from the beginning - and a vision Ruiz has manifested for a group of athletes who may not have a shot at playing football ever again.