Eyes rimmed red, black smeared across his cheeks, brows curved upwards in astonishment, Damian Cabrera glanced for a moment at the sea of fans in Garfield blue celebrating in the seats of red.
This was it. This was everything. This was the East L.A. Classic not only personified but elevated into a community-event-turned-blowout at the Coliseum. This was pride, blue confetti erupting and someone in the stands of USC’s home stadium proudly waving a cardboard cutout of his face, his Garfield family of thousands chanting “East L-A!” moments after the final snap.
This was what Garfield quarterback Cabrera would see when he closed his eyes at night. And now his eyes were open. And fresh with tears.
“It came true,” Cabrera said, gesturing for a minute at the rollicking stands. “It came true.”
Football players in East Los Angeles dream of a Classic win.
But Friday was more. It wasn’t the home crowd at East Los Angeles College anymore — this was the Coliseum with 27,100 in the stands, the field of legends, with the Black Eyed Peas throwing a halftime concert/party. And not scoring in the first half, Garfield pulled away in the second to beat Roosevelt High 16-8 in the biggest and grandest Classic in its near centuries-long history.
With two minutes to play, after being stifled for much of the night, Cabrera punched in the winning score, giving the Classic belt back to Garfield after Roosevelt knocked off the Bulldogs for the first time in a decade last season.
“That’s all I wanted,” Cabrera said, pointing emphatically as a circle of players thrust their helmets in the air behind him postgame. “I brought it back.”
It was a display of hometown pride, Garfield fans tossing chants of “East L-A!” against the Roosevelt stands’ “Boy-le Heights!” across the Coliseum. And at halftime, the chants and boos converged in song, in celebration, one of the biggest acts lighting up the peristyle.
William Adams, the Black Eyed Peas frontman who grew up in the Estrada Courts housing project in Boyle Heights, promised “Grammys-level production” for the group’s highly anticipated halftime performance.
And after the teams exited for the first half, Roosevelt up 8-0, the stadium went dark and lights flashed throughout the stadium. .
To raucous cheers and phone flashlights, the group performed “Let’s Get It Started” and “Boom Boom Pow” under the lighted torch. But the crown jewel, the Adams-described “icing on the cake,” came when the lights turned back on and the Black Eyed Peas assembled on the field — joining the Roosevelt and Garfield bands, cheerleaders and color squad for a collaborative rendition of “I Gotta Feeling” that left chills.
“We are familia!” yelled Adams to overwhelming cheers as he left the field. “Fa-mi-lia!”
“It’s something that I’ll never forget, and something I’ll never stop talking about, for the rest of my life,” Garfield band member Freddy Serrano said after halftime.
It seemed a difficult endeavor to stay composed amid the hype, but Roosevelt keyed in on a defensive game plan to shut down Garfield’s passing game in the first
Roosevelt‘s defensive front stifled the Bulldogs in the first half, Arroyo picking off a pass on Garfield’s first drive of the game and the Bulldogs coughing up the ball on their second.
Roosevelt, meanwhile, handed the ball to senior Isaiah Wright on a fourth and one on its first drive of the game and watched him burst down the left sideline for a 51-yard touchdown run.
The game plan, Andrade and Reed said Wednesday, was to take away Garfield standout junior receiver Jayden Barnes, who entered with six touchdowns. It was the “only player they got,” Andrade asserted.
Garfield junior running back Damian Cornejo had 17 touchdowns coming into Friday, and made his presence felt in the third quarter, punching in a third-quarter two-point conversion after Cabrera’s first touchdown run to make it 8-8. And in the fourth quarter, with the clock ticking inside of eight minutes in front of an adrenaline-heavy post-Black-Eyed-Peas crowd, he careened for two long gains.
And with “East LA” chants drowning out the Roosevelt crowd’s “Boy-le Heights” all throughout the second half, Cabrera punched in the winning score.