Prep Football: Del Norte High gets first win over Rancho Bernardo in school history
By Michael Bower
When the Del Norte High football team hosted Rancho Bernardo for the first time in school history two years ago, there was a banner brought by Broncos fans that read: “Welcome to Del Norte Middle School.”
And that is how many Rancho Bernardo students have felt about their crosstown rivals since Del Norte opened in 2009. But on Friday night, the Nighthawks made it clear they are all grown up now.
George Liang exploded for a 65-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, the defense made one last stand and the Nighthawks picked up their biggest win in their three-year program history, 28-21, over rival Rancho Bernardo in a nonleague game.
It was Del Norte’s first win in school history over the Broncos (1-6).
“The nicest thing about this win is how our program has gone from nothing to one of the better programs in San Diego,” said Liang, who finished with 123 yards on 15 carries. “I still remember our first game two years ago. We were scared and didn’t know what to do. Now we are seniors and it is great to see just how far this program has come.”
The stands at Del Norte High were packed with Nighthawks fans that were energized right from the start. The student section, also known as “The Flock,” rushed the field as the final seconds ticked off the clock. It mirrored the scene of an upset victory by a home team at the college level.
“That was amazing,” Liang said of the students storming the field. “Our fans have really improved this last year. We have The Flock and everything. We are finally a real high school now. I am proud of it.”
The two teams never shook hands after the game. When Del Norte students rushed the field afterwards, Rancho Bernardo coach Tristan McCoy made sure to get his players off the field quickly for safety reasons. McCoy did explain his reasoning for not lining up his players to shake hands to Nighthawks coach Leigh Cole.
“(McCoy) said there was too much chaos and it would be dangerous,” Cole said.
There almost was no celebration for the Nighthawks (3-4). Rancho Bernardo cut the deficit to 28-21 on Brian Riley’s 21 yard TD reception from Mike Searson with 2:35 to go and then recovered a Liang fumble at the 48 with 1:38 left.
But the Broncos were called for intentional grounding on first down and fumbled the snap on second down to make it third-and-37. The next two passes were incomplete and Del Norte ran out the clock.
“This is definitely the biggest win in the program in our short history,” Cole said. “This is only our third varsity season and we beat Rancho Bernardo, a bigger school and our rival.”
Mark Gallant had 66 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 7 and 19 yards for the Nighthawks. Quarterback Parker Lappin, a junior varsity call-up starting just his third game, was almost flawless. The sophomore completed 11 of 14 passes for 104 yards and had a 1-yard QB sneak for a TD to put Del Norte up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
“It has been a growing process for Parker,” Cole said. “But he is a smart and tough and a winner.”
Chad Wetzel had a few crucial catches to keep the chains moving for Del Norte. He would finish with a team-high seven catches for 91 yards. He also had an interception on defense to end the first half.
The Broncos trailed 21-7 at halftime before nearly rallying all the way back for the victory. Charles Ensley’s 50-yard TD toss to Riley (eight catches 123 yards) on a wide receiver pass cut the deficit to 21-14 with 8:52 to go in the third quarter.
Rancho Bernardo’s Ivy Adair finished with 123 yards, including a 56-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Broncos senior Niko Greub was injured near the end of the second quarter and taken from the field in an ambulance, delaying the game 25 minutes. It was announced that Greub would be OK and the ambulance was just precautionary.
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