There were 4 1/2 minutes left. San Pedro was clinging to a seven-point lead over Wilmington Banning on Friday night in a game that would decide the Marine League championship.
Banning was facing a third down from the 49. First-year San Pedro coach Corey Walsh wanted to put in 5-foot-8 Juan Reyes at defensive end. He’s a pass-rush specialist. But Walsh’s father, Mike, who was a head coach for 25 years, was on the sideline and questioned his son’s decision.
“I was worried about his size,” Mike Walsh said. “But he’s a tough kid.”
The son went with his gut instinct. “He’s fresh legs,” Corey said.
Reyes delivered the defensive play of the game, recording his first sack of the season, forcing Banning to punt.
The Pilots never got the ball back. San Pedro ran out the clock to come away with a 14-7 victory.
The Pirates finished the regular season 10-0, Marine League champions and the likely No. 1 seed to the City Section Open Division playoffs.
Even more important, the game showed that the rookie head coach trusts his judgment.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Mike Walsh said.
Banning (5-5) put up quite a fight behind junior quarterback Robert Guerrero, who passed for 188 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Nuhi-Yandall in the third quarter to tie the score at 7-7.
San Pedro is a team that grinds and grinds trying to wear down opponents. The Pirates held a 7-0 halftime lead on the strength of a four-yard touchdown run by Makani Konopka in the second quarter.
Otherwise, there was little offense in the first half. Banning missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt and San Pedro had a 30-yard field-goal attempt blocked.
San Pedro’s offense was missing standout running back Rowan Sanchez, who is recovering from an injury and should be back in two weeks for the opening of the Open Division playoffs.
Banning’s defense, led by defensive back Saxson Vaa, kept the Pilots in the game.
Santiago Rivera ran 13 yards for a touchdown to put the Pirates back on top 14-7 with 10:37 left.
His 19-yard completion on fourth down kept the drive alive.
Last season, the Pirates had more speed and big-play weapons at receiver.
“We’re more the grind-it-out team,” Corey Walsh said. “No shame. That’s who we are.”
San Pedro could be facing a rematch of last year’s final against defending champion Lake Balboa Birmingham if the seeding committee decides to follow CalPreps.com rankings when the decision is made Saturday.
Off the field, Banning has been dealing with a season-long issue of waiting to see if its best returning player, defensive end Seth Fao, would be allowed to play.
So far, the answer has been no. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis after playing in the first game and has been seeking medical clearance for weeks.
Doctors have signed off, but he needs the Los Angeles Unified School District to agree.
He was distraught Friday afternoon when told he couldn’t play against San Pedro.
“I’m missing the biggest game of the season,” he said during Banning’s pregame meal.
“We know there’s a risk and signed off,” his father, Sunny, said.
“He’s worked so hard to get his grades up,” his mother, Lini, said.
The Pilots can only hope he’ll become available for the City Section Open Division playoffs in two weeks.