Spartans lose clash of titans

September 22, 2009

By Christopher Huber

Kasen Williams, Skyline junior wide receiver, collects a perfect Jake Heaps pass in the end zone to tie the game 14-all at 7:20 left in the second quarter, as Oaks Christian, Calif., senior defensive back Max Napolitano defends in the nationally televised game. By Greg Farrar

Kasen Williams, Skyline junior wide receiver, collects a perfect Jake Heaps pass in the end zone to tie the game 14-all at 7:20 left in the second quarter, as Oaks Christian, Calif., senior defensive back Max Napolitano defends in the nationally televised game. By Greg Farrar

No. 9 Skyline falls to No. 6 Oaks Christian, 28-25

When the teams left the field for halftime, Skyline High School junior wide receiver Kasen Williams told his teammates not to quit. That’s not what Skyline does, he said.

The Spartans were down 21-17 at the break to one of the nation’s best teams in Oaks Christian. Lions quarterback Nick Montana, a Washington verbal commit, and his offense had struck three times through the air and their running game picked away at the Skyline defense.

Skyline got off to a jittery start on offense in front of 4,400 fans and a national TV audience Sept. 18, but had come back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to score 17 unanswered points in the second. Skyline let one more Lions touchdown slip by, but the game was nowhere near decided.

“I told my team I wasn’t going to quit,” Williams said after the game at Spartan Stadium. “And that’s what we did, we didn’t quit. Down to the end, even when we’re down, we don’t quit.”

And they didn’t quit. But Oaks Christian, from Westlake Village, Calif., handed Skyline its first loss since November 2006 (31 games) in its 28-25 victory.

“We don’t want to feel this anger ever again,” Williams said. “We never want to be in this position again, so what we’re going to do now is go back to the drawing board and we’re going to figure things out, and we’re going to get ready for next week. We still have that state championship to go to.”

Historic comeback in the works

The dagger to the heart came on a last-minute, fourth-quarter Skyline drive that shaped up to be a comeback drive to remember.

Running back Nick Washburn ran the ball in for a touchdown and the 2-point conversion brought the score to within three, 28-25, with 3:31 remaining. Skyline’s defense pressured Montana heavily and forced a punt. And Skyline fans went wild, knowing they might witness an historic comeback.

With 1:56 left, Spartans quarterback Jake Heaps strung together a drive that included 16- and 25-yard passes to Williams and Connor Brandt, respectively. Washburn helped pick away at the clock and Oaks Christian’s defense.

“I think it just shows the resilience of our team,” Heaps said. “We’re not a team that’s going to give up. We’re not a team that’s going to back down. We’re going to claw and fight our way back through. Unfortunately, I made a mistake at the end of the game and it was costly.”

Montana and Heaps are consistently ranked two of the top high school quarterbacks in the country, and both of the young men were coming into the game with an undefeated record.

Fans and news crews had gathered near the stadium as early as 10 a.m. By 5:30 p.m., the line to enter the stadium stretched down the school driveway onto 228th Avenue.

By the drive in the fourth quarter, the tension was at a fever pitch and everyone knew they were getting their money’s worth.

The game was living up to all the hype.

But on first-and-10 at the Lions’ 30-yard-line, Heaps threw an interception into the hands of Max Napolitano. The throw was an attempt to get the ball out of bounds and keep the drive alive, Heaps said, but an Oaks Christian defender hit him at just the right moment.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get it this time, but the next road is getting to a state championship,” Heaps said after the game.

Heaps wasn’t feeling well

The game began questionably for the Spartans. The Lions defense sacked Heaps on the first play of the game and Skyline struggled to find a rhythm.

“You come into a big game and you’ve got you know, jitters, and all that stuff,” Heaps said. “These guys are from California and it’s a different type of speed that we haven’t seen before, and so we were just adjusting the first quarter.”

Oaks Christian scored twice in the middle of the first on a 12-yard pass from Montana to Trey Smith, son of actor Will Smith, and a 24-yard Montana-Alani Fua pass.

The first touchdown of the game was Trey Smith’s first as a starting varsity receiver, he said after the game.

“It felt really cool,” he said. “I gotta give their defense credit. They made us work. They did a great job. They were well-prepared, they were well-coached and so they really made us execute well. This is a really good team.”

Skyline answered in the second with 17 straight points. It gained a 17-14 lead after Heaps first connected with Williams for an 84-yard pass-fumble recovery play for a touchdown. Less than two minutes later, the two connected again for a 38-yard score. Kicker Sean Penberthy put Skyline up three with a 30-yard field goal with just over 4 minutes, 25 seconds left in the second.

“One thing I’m never going to question is the effort of our kids. Our kids play extremely, extremely hard. We just made too many mistakes today,” said Skyline coach Mat Taylor. “It was about execution tonight.”

Heaps played sick, but completed 13 of 31 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown. He did throw three interceptions and fumbled two times. Montana had a stronger, more accurate performance, completing 21 of 34 passes for 261 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Smith caught seven passes for 47 yards and Oaks Christian running back Malcolm Jones finished with 128 yards on 20 carries. Williams caught six passes for 163 yards.

The local and national attention to the game would be enough to distract players from executing at their best, but the game brought even more attention due to the stars roaming the Oaks Christian sidelines Sept. 18.

Will Smith arrived during the first series of the game and paced the sidelines as the teams drove up and down the field. Four-time Super Bowl champion and NFL hall-of-famer Joe Montana (Nick Montana’s father) and NHL superstar Wayne Gretsky (father of backup quarterback Trevor Gretsky) both enjoyed the game from the top row of the visiting bleachers.

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or Comment at

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