Jamari Johnson stood smirking in the 50-degree chill, steam swirling off his 6-foot-5 frame, drops of sweat glistening on his cheeks like tiny frozen icicles.
Inglewood’s Friday night Southern Section Division 2 semifinal against West Hills Chaminade went so late that even the smallest breath turned to fog in the dead-of-night cold at South Torrance High, the Sentinels and Eagles trading back-and-forth blows in an instant playoff overtime classic. And with the ball on the two-yard line and a chance to walk it off, it was Johnson, Inglewood’s senior All-American and Louisville commit, who bullied his way into the end zone as his teammates and sidelines erupted with a 41-38 win.
“Before the play started,” Johnson said after a four-touchdown game, “I already knew I was going to get in there.”
Inglewood maintains a perfect record heading into a Division 2 final against Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, who beat Bishop Amat 29-23 to continue an undefeated surge after a 2-4 start.
Early, it seemed as if whichever team could get a single defensive stop would emerge the winner, the Sentinels and Eagles trading scores on five straight drives starting toward the end of the first quarter.
Chaminade quarterback Javance Tupouata-Johnson made play-action magic, running for two first-half scores and throwing for another — despite a catch that was clearly fumbled — as Inglewood sophomore signal-caller Husan Longstreet wheeled and dealed in his own right.
After Longstreet found receiver Terrell Bradshaw for Bradshaw’s second touchdown grab of the night, Inglewood took the lead 28-27 in the third quarter — and in the nick of time, the Sentinels defense kicked in, shutting down Chaminade for the majority of the second half as Inglewood tacked on another score to extend their lead to 35-27.
But this game couldn’t end that fast. With 2:30 to play, Chaminade marched down the field thanks to Inglewood penalties that sent the Sentinels crowd into a frenzy of boos. Seeming to slow time on a third and 10, Tupouata-Johnson tucked the ball and pranced into the end zone, a casual score in the most dramatic of moments as Logan Carpenter followed with a two-point conversion.
“I think he’s going to have a big game,” Chaminade coach David Machuca predicted pregame of senior Tupouata-Johnson.
And he did, prancing and dancing for four touchdowns. But it wasn’t enough. The magic ran out in overtime, Chaminade settling for a field goal as the Inglewood defense forced a fourth down, eliminated as Jamari Johnson found paydirt.